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Hanze smoke-free policy: fewer smoking areas, more litter?

Everyone will have noticed: nowadays Hanze isn’t a fan of smoking. Last academic year it was still possible to smoke in certain areas around the entrances to the Zernike Campus, but smokers are now expected to move to one of the three smoking areas. There’s a small problem involved, however: the litter.

You’ll be familiar with them: those little rectangular glass houses which were often surrounded by a cloud of smoke. They were called smoking shelters, and most of them have been removed since 6 May 2019. There are only three left at Zernike Campus, hidden away in distant corners so that they cause the minimum of nuisance to non-smokers. If you refer to the policy plans you can read that Hanze UAS aims to be ‘an example for the new generation and aims to contribute visibly to the strategic theme of Healthy Ageing. And this includes a healthy living environment that encourages healthy behaviour. Smoking does not fit this profile.’

Hanze UAS aims to be ‘an example for the new generation and aims to contribute visibly to the strategic theme of Healthy Ageing’

The smoke-free policy is important for Hanze because in 2017 the university joined the Alliantie Rookvrij Nederland (Smoke-Free Netherlands Alliance). The Healthy Ageing Network Northern Netherlands (HANNN) has stated its goal to achieve the first ‘Man-Made Blue Zone’ in the northern Netherlands by 2030. These are delineated areas in which the population shares a fairly specific lifestyle and living environment which enables people to live measurably longer lives.

Fewer smokers, more rubbish?
It’s difficult to measure whether the number of smokers really has fallen. Hanze has hired a number of stewards whose full-time job is to help guide smokers onto the right track. The biggest problem is a lack of authority. After all, what sanctions can a rebellious smoker expect if he or she, despite Hanze’s good intentions, simply stands by the door and smokes? Exactly, no sanctions. Smokers can’t be suspended and no fines can be imposed on them, which means that the stewards tend to be fighting a losing battle. We approached several stewards for a response but they didn’t want to talk to us.

“Fully smoke-free Hanze” is actually a huge challenge

Since there are few ashtrays where the smokers can deposit their cigarette butts, the butts are just thrown on the ground regardless. A practiced smoker may sometimes try to flip the butt into the drain (which is of course another not-done) but most cigarettes are simply thrown into the grass. The Hanze policy for discouraging smokers involves removing facilities for smokers. But now it’s becoming clear that partial removal of facilities creates new problems. A pavement-level cigarette butt collection box is easy to empty, but an area of grass is much harder to clean up.

Location manager Toine Embregts says that retaining ashtrays next to the shelters, or at other points, actually stimulates smoking. ‘If ashtrays are installed somewhere, then this gives smokers the idea that it’s OK to smoke there. By locating smoking areas further away from busy places and routes, we have moved smokers out of sight. We have to draw the line somewhere. “Fully smoke-free Hanze” is actually a huge challenge. The UMCG is faced with the same problem at the moment.’

We’re not trained as smoking police. Our activities are based on informing people on the campus

Embregts is a member of the Smoke-Free Hanze Steering Group, which has the mission of making Hanze smoke-free by 1 January 2020. ‘Of course we hope that smokers won’t throw everything on the ground and will behave in a decent and orderly way, but unfortunately we’re seeing a different kind of behaviour. Sending smokers away is a much too severe measure. We’re not trained as smoking police. Our activities are based on informing people on the campus – the smoke-free policy was introduced without much publicity. And it’s important to realise: there may seem to be many butts on the ground but the concentration of cigarettes is much bigger now. In other words, we see all the butts being dumped around the smoking areas but far fewer on the rest of the site. That’s actually progress.’

A leaf out of the Russian book
In Russia they’re not in favour of it either, all that tobacco puffing. Back in 2013 the government introduced one of the world’s strictest anti-smoking laws. Smoking in public spaces was forbidden, the price of tobacco went up and advertising for tobacco products was forbidden. The Kremlin’s leading medical advisor said the following: ‘Smokers are weak people and these rules will help them. Let them stand in the sun, rain and cold if they really feel they want to smoke.’

And here’s another good one. In order to discourage smokers, posters were put up in bus shelters featuring Obama’s head, with the accompanying text ‘Smoking kills more people than Obama, and Obama kills many people.’ Maybe Hanze can learn something from that, you might say.