The not so smoke-free UT

| Hunter Calder

Hunter Calder, a Master’s student of Communication Science, is fed up with smokers on a smoke-free campus and the university’s lack of measures. He channelled his frustration into this opinion piece. ‘Where I draw the line is when students and staff are threatened, simply for trying to implement the policies of the university.’

Dear smokers,

Please consider us, your non-smoking student peers, and colleagues when you light up on our smoke-free campus. It’s not just the smell that is downright deterring, the second-hand toxins are compromising our health and wellbeing.

Perhaps you were unaware that campus was smoke-free. Forgiven you are for having not seen the blink-and-you-miss-it ‘Rookvrije Campus’ signs, at sporadic locations across campus. Or there’s the forgotten-about banner, pushed to the rear corner of a corridor in the Vrijhof. That’s seemingly all the university is doing to inform and discourage smokers to not light-up on campus.

When attempts are made by students or staff to deter smoking and remind smokers of the rules, we are often ignored. Some smokers genuinely seem apologetic and understanding, tossing their butt to the ground in an act of retaliation and guilt. Albeit adding to the pile of other butts and litter – another issue. Then there’s other smokers who screw up their nose and laugh or snigger as if they couldn’t care less. Who am I, or we, the volunteer smoking police to tell them the campus is smoke-free?

Where I draw the line however is when students and staff are threatened and made to feel intimidated simply for trying to implement the policies of the UT. When the smoke-free plan was first introduced at the end of March two years ago, there seemed to be a brief decline in smoking on campus – perhaps blurred by the low number of people on campus during the Covid-19 pandemic. A few years on, there’s a return of students and staff on campus plus the regular new cohort students, some oblivious to the non-smoking regulations.

The current university approach for addressing the matter is more head-in-the-sand, unwilling to enforce and clearly communicate its’ own policies with no clear or evident educational or enforcement programs. Of course, being a university full of knowledgeable experts in various fields, it seems multiple opportunities are being missed to draw on the appropriate expertise for the implementation of effective, ongoing health strategies and communicative campaigns addressing the smoking issue.

My tolerance is wearing thin as it’s now near impossible to be on campus without coming across the plumes of smoke that appear to have increased in recent months. I struggled to find the right person responsible for addressing the problem.

Eventually I’m assured by the university’s Integral Safety Manager, that the smoke-free campus is not a ‘publicity stunt’ because the UT ‘considers the health of its students and staff very important’. ‘The University of Twente wants to offer its students and staff a healthy learning and working environment. This fits in seamlessly with the university's ambitions in the area of sustainable employability of its staff, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and the increased medical focus of the UT,’ they say.

But tangible action is necessary if the university values the health of its learning and working students and environment. The University Integral Safety Manager insists that reminding others about the smoke free campus is up to students and staff. ‘If someone is smoking in the no smoking area, you can speak to the smoker about their behaviour. Should this not offer a solution, then a complaint may be lodged with security… If staff members or students regularly violate the no smoking policy, disciplinary measures may be taken,’ they say.

While social nudging from colleagues and peers may contribute to changing behaviours and attitudes, I believe the university needs to also be proactive and take responsibility in practicing what it preaches beyond empty words and policies. Effectively students and staff are being asked to police the issue and expose themselves to second-hand smoke and intimidating behaviour in the process. No thank you.

I eventually tried campus security, but they seemed uncertain on what exactly they could do. And I’m told, they were too busy to come right now and by the time they did the smoker(s) may be gone. Campus security say I’m best to bring the issue up with another department.

It’s like a game of cat and mouse. For the smokers, it’s unclear where they are allowed to go to suffocate their lungs without inhibiting others. For the non-smokers, it’s unclear who is responsible to prevent us from being suffocated.

For now, I’ve given up on my quest for fresh breathable air when on the University’s ‘green’ campus and will suffice to retreat indoors – albeit hastily passing through the lingering smokers lurking in the entranceways.

Hunter Calder

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