On Monday 20th July 2015, the ANU became one of an increasing number of Australian universities to ban all forms of smoking in and around its campuses. With the exception of special designated outdoor smoking areas (DOSAs) around licensed venues and residential colleges, students and staff are no longer able to smoke at the ANU. This policy covers not only the primary ANU campus, but the Mt. Stromlo Observatory and a coastal campus near Batemans Bay as well.
In announcing the decision to make the ANU a smoke-free campus on World No Tobacco Day earlier in April, Vice-Chancellor Ian Young said that “it sends a strong message to staff and students about being healthy”.
However, a significant number of ANU students are unhappy with the ban, indicating that they feel the decision has less to do with being healthy, and more to do with good public relations. There have also been protests regarding statements that the smoking ban has “overwhelming support from the University community” , when consultation was limited only to whether affected members of campus would prefer the installation of DOSAs, with no option to voice disapproval against a complete smoking ban.
Ramon Bouckaert, a third year Economics student, told Woroni that he disagreed completely with the smoking ban.
“It is just a PR stunt to make the university look ‘socially responsible’ and in step with other Group of 8 universities,” he said.
Bouckaert also raised the point that if the ANU’s ban on smoking was motivated by health concerns, then it is not logical that the drinking culture on campus was not also focused on.
Another student, Jack Foulds, was also not convinced by ANU’s stated motive of health being behind the smoking ban. Foulds said that health concerns as the motive “doesn’t stack up”, as ANU hasn’t raised anything at all about the alcohol and fast food available on campus.
Issues of priorities were also raised by students questioning how the ban will be enforced, and whether the enforcement of the ban will take resources away from other areas, such as security on campus. John Casey, a fourth year arts student, said he was “not very comfortable with the idea of ANU Security being made to enforce another ANU PR move while women still feel unsafe walking around campus.”
The general feeling amongst students against the ban is that it is not ANU’s job to police such behaviour like smoking, one student even going as far as to call it socialist. William Taylor, a fifth year Arts and Commerce student and non-smoker, said he was “disappointed” by the decision. He voiced displeasure at the notion that the ANU believed that nurturing Australia’s thought leaders includes the assumption that they are either incapable of recognising that smoking is harmful, or lack the discipline to not smoke around others.
“If tomorrow’s leaders really need to be babysat to that extent, then what future are we heading for?” Taylor asked.
However, an online poll on the ANU’s Facebook social network “Stalkerspace” indicated that approximately 300 students of 449 surveyed were in support of the smoking ban.
Rachael Featherstone, a third year science student, said that she did support the movement. Featherstone said that she was sick of having to smell the second-hand smoke of people smoking too close to libraries and cafes on campus, but that she wasn’t against smoking, just smokers “that are oblivious to others”.
Interestingly, on 27th July, a public lecture was hosted by the ANU College of Medicine, Biology and Environment presenting the first large-scale Australian results on smoking and mortality. Results presented included the findings that smokers were estimated to die an average of 10 years earlier than non-smokers and that up to two-thirds of deaths in current smokers can be attributed to smoking. These timely-presented findings clearly show merit to encouraging smokers to quit, but it is unclear whether the ANU’s implementation of such an aggressive smoking policy was as valid.
The support being offered by the University for students to quit smoking has also come under some concern. ANU has arranged fully-subsidised QUIT courses for staff and PhD students who wish to stop smoking, whereas undergraduate students to contact their student association (ANUSA) to see how they can access such programs. ANUSA President, Ben Gill, said both ANUSA and PARSA are organising free QUIT seminars for students presented by the ACT Cancer Council, but that these programs will only go ahead if there is sufficient interest from students.
More information about the QUIT seminars can be found at http://www.anusa.com.au/quit/.
Illustration: Joanne Leong