Techno Optimism

| Niels ter Meer

Technology can’t solve all societal problems, but it maybe can fix one we have here: smoking on our supposedly smoke-free campus. A humble proposal from student columnist Niels ter Meer.


At this point I’m so old that I remember the implementation of the ‘smoke-free campus’ a great many years ago. Maps were created, borders were drawn, nice big billboards were purchased, all in an effort to make clear that smoking was now banned on (most of) the campus.

Not that that has done much. One of the first things I ran in to when I returned to campus was not having to reconfigure my Wi-Fi passwords (for the last time!), but, of course, the smokers. They were where they always have been, standing right next to my convenient parking spot for my bike. And this time, also right next to those billboards, as if they can’t read. At least the UT vaguely got their money’s worth when they had those made.

At this point, this is not the first, nor second, nor third, but I think fourth time keystrokes have been spilled on this issue. It has been three years, yet we are still dealing with this. The university has always had a laissez-faire approach when it comes to enforcing its own rules. COVID health and safety rules, regulations on drinks, and now smoking, it never has seemed to consider actual enforcement. Arguing ‘we’re not a police state’ is beyond childish when it is about protecting others from non-criminal yet harmful behaviour by setting some clear boundaries, which mean nothing if not enforced. The time for asking it nicely and ‘respectfully’ has long since passed. Go to your GP if you want pity.

So given that neither the smokers nor the board can read warnings, nor that us students and staff seem to feel ‘empowered to say something about it’, perhaps it is time we go the techno-optimist route. How about we automate the ‘say something about it’ — we’re a technical university after all.

Specifically, what I want, is smart smoke detectors/alarms installed where smokers frequent. But instead of a loud, blaring fire alarm, this would, when detecting nicotine smoke, tell the delinquents, in the most nagging voice imaginable: ‘The UT campus is smoke free’. It could then list the long list of horrible things that it can cause to them and others — if people can put it on cigarette packs we can put it in a voice message. ‘For others' health and safety, security has been notified’. Just do this on a loop, until the smoke has dissipated. Or until five minutes after for good measure.

Perhaps this will nag the remaining smokers off campus, at which point we would be done. But if not, if triggered often enough, it might show the board that they should probably quit whatever they were smoking while they came up with the current approach. As they should have, like those smokers, years ago.

Stay tuned

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