According to integral safety manager Erwin Medendorp, the UT had to contend with the unfortunate timing of the implementation of the smoking policy. ‘Since March 30th 2020, a large part of the campus – except for the residential area – is smoke-free. This policy came into effect just after the start of the corona crisis. There has been plenty of communication, but that happened mostly during lockdowns when everyone was sitting at home, and it was not relevant to them. However, this policy requires continuous attention. That has slipped away somewhat and now there are also new generations of students.’
Not a police state
Now there is a communication plan to focus attention. ‘A message has been sent to managers and we are working together with the Student Union and other partners on campus. In addition, we will communicate on social media and on the coffee machines that our campus is smoke-free’, says Medendorp.
The main part of the smoking policy on campus is aimed at UT students and employees confronting each other on their smoking behaviour. The UT does not want to actively enforce the smoking policy, says Medendorp. ‘We are an open university, not a police state. We do not want to be one either. Nor can we let security take over tasks from the police. Enforcing it would mean doing too much violence to the freedoms we have. That is a slippery slope.’
‘Treating each other with respect’
Nevertheless, placing the responsibility on the individual can lead to aggressive and undesirable behaviour, as a student recently described in an op-ed submitted to utoday.nl. The integral safety manager is aware of this. ‘The policy is aimed at respectfully treating each other and listening to each other. Yes, I can imagine that as a smoker you feel pushed into a corner when your behaviour is addressed. But you also need to realize that your behaviour can be a burden to others. Smoking is your own choice, but it no longer fits on our campus.’
Medendorp hopes that students and employees will feel empowered to confront others who smoke on their behaviour. ‘You are allowed to say something about it. And you can also try to seek support from your immediate environment. Then you are not alone. And if things get really bad, you can always call security. It starts with treating each other with respect, I hope people realize that.’
The UT does risk fines from the Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority, which is a supervisor and can impose fines for violations of the smoking ban. These fines can amount to 4500 euros per violation, which are imposed on the university – and which the UT can relay to the smoker. According to Medendorp, that is also no reason to enforce strict rules. ‘It is not that we think it is unimportant – quite the contrary. It is not just required by law, as a university we want to offer everyone a healthy learning and working environment and ensure that the next generation is smoke-free. But we cannot take over from the police. That is why we want to work on raising awareness.’
On the employee portal, the UT announces that it is starting a poll about the smoke-free campus, ‘in which we are curious about your experiences, your opinion about enforcement, but also whether you would like to contribute ideas or help in keeping our campus smoke-free’.