Clean Air: Instead of enforcing the smoking ban, UG facilitates smokers

People still smoke everywhere in and around the UG, bothering others. How should the university deal with this? One thing they definitely shouldn’t do is install new ashtrays, says Tom Voeten with anti-smoking organisation Clean Air.

Universities should ensure their buildings and outside spaces are smoke free, and they should enforce that policy. However, in Groningen, the university has actually creating smoking areas complete with ashtrays. This facilitates and in fact stimulates a deadly smoking culture.

The government wants to discourage young people from taking up smoking. They therefore decided in August 2020 that from then on, all schools and universities had to be smoke free. This smoking ban is always in place; 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The educational institutes have had to establish, indicate, and enforce this smoking ban. It’s something they’re actively obligated to do.

In spite of this smoking ban, the students at the University of Groningen (UG) still smoke quite a lot. Over the past few years, this has led to a slew of complaints, especially from people living near the Faculty of Behavioural and Social Sciences. While they complain about cigarette butts littering the doorsteps of the buildings, employees complain about the smoke wafting inside.

To combat the issue of people throwing their cigarettes on the ground, the faculty decided to re-install ashtrays, giving the smokers somewhere to dispose of their cigarettes. The University Library is also plagued by smokers. Because the smokers are right in front of the entrance, the smoke blows inside through the revolving door, bothering the people at the front desk.

The educational institutes have had to establish, indicate, and enforce this smoking ban

The library’s Service Council even said that employees suffering from asthma are particularly bothered by the constant smoke. It’s clear there’s a great need for a solution; signs and markings to discourage smoking haven’t had any results. A spokesperson for the university told UKrant that the board is still deliberating on possible measures.

The UG’s faculty boards and University Services are working on several proposals for the board of directors to deal with the smoking problem at the university. They propose asking the city to expand the smoke-free areas around the university buildings, which would enable them to enforce a wider smoking ban.

They also propose an awareness campaign to emphasise that the university is a smoke-free environment. Another proposal is to install specific ashtrays called ballot bins in several places.

These ballot bins allow smokers to choose between two sections that each have an answer to a question written on the bin. This is supposed to motivate smokers to throw their cigarettes in the bins instead of on the street. The UG’s spokesperson also said that using stewards to enforce the smoking ban would be too expensive.

What makes this situation remarkable is that the university has chosen to facilitate smoking

The smoking problem at the University of Groningen isn’t unique; it’s likely that other universities and schools also deal with it to some extent. What makes this situation remarkable however, is that the university has chosen to, instead of enforcing the smoking ban more severely, facilitate smoking rather than help smokers beat their addiction.

The request that the city expand the smoke-free zones is a step in the right direction, but without enforcement or helping addicted smokers, this won’t actually solve the problem.

The goal of a smoking ban is to protect students and staff from addiction and the health risks of (second-hand) smoking. That’s why the university should actively enforce the smoking ban instead of facilitating smoking through smoking areas and ashtrays, which actually stimulate it.

Clean Air Nederland will be making a report to the Dutch Food Safety Authority and the Ministry of Education, Culture, and Science.

Tom Voeten, Clean Air Nederland



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