Western University will move to become a smoke-free campus as soon as next summer, according to the school's advisory committee on the future of smoking at Western.

Terri Paul, an associate dean (learner equity & wellness) and committee member, said the goal is to create designated smoking areas within a smoke-free central campus by July, 2018 — although the date is tentative. Later, Western will make the entire campus a non-smoking area.

"That’s the goal: to go to a smoke-free campus," said Christopher Bumbacco, Housing and Ancillary Services' director of facilities and a committee member. "The question was do we wait for this to happen or do we be a leader? Western wants to be a leader."

Western has been in the process of revamping its smoking policy since March, when it created the ad hoc advisory committee on the future of smoking at Western. The committee is made up of undergraduate and graduate students, staff, faculty and London community members, including smokers and non-smokers. Its purpose is to advise the university on the logistics of going smoke-free.

A campus-wide survey is helping to drive the push. Last year, the university conducted a smoking policy survey and sent out 42,620 email questionnaires to students, staff and faculty. Approximately 3,250 individuals responded, answering questions about their smoking habits, Western's smoking policy and the potential move toward a smoke-free campus. The 2016 survey found:

  • 76 per cent strongly agreed or agreed that a move to a smoke-free campus would be a positive transition.
  • 50 per cent of respondents said Western's smoking policy is effective or somewhat effective; 44 per cent said it is not effective.
  • 13 per cent of respondents identified as light or regular smokers. This is less than the provincial percentage of smokers in 2014 at 17.4 per cent.

"The finding, for me, from this survey was that there’s a will to go smoke-free on this campus. And it’s not everybody, but it’s a huge majority," said Ann Hutchison, Western senior Human Resources advisor and committee member. 

Like the other schools, Western still needs to iron out its smoking policy's kinks. While McMaster recently announced it plans to go 100 per cent smoke free — tobacco or otherwise — the committee says it's too early to know how marijuana use will be reflected in the new smoking policy. Paul said the committee is exploring how the university will make provisions for medicinal and religious smoking. Further, Western will also need to consider how the smoking ban will affect London residents. McMaster is working to ensure the ban doesn't lead to increased smoking in its surrounding residential areas — something the committee says Western is also looking at. 

Western's current smoking policy has been in place since 2003 and was revised in 2015 to include clean air corridors. The most recent policy bans smoking in university buildings and within 10 metres of building entrances and fresh air intakes, like openable windows. Clean air corridors presently designate some high-traffic areas on campus as smoke free, like between Weldon Library and the Student Services Building.

A key part of the campus-wide smoking ban will be enforcement. Bumbacco said the university plans to approach the ban from an educational point of view, not punitively. Paul said the committee's discussed the idea of having "ambassadors" — people who can go around and give information about where smokers can smoke. The survey also asked respondents to assess the best way to enforce the ban: whether that's ambassadors, patrols or simply relying on community members to speak up. The majority of the respondents to the question, 41 per cent, chose enforcement officers who patrol and speak to offenders as the best option.

Regardless, as Western transforms into a smoke-free campus, Paul said educational campaigns and Western's health resources will be highlighted. The survey reported half of smokers who responded to a question about quitting said they wanted to quit within the next year. Western has multiple supports for students, like Student Health Services, the Leave the Pack Behind program and a smoker's helpline.

The next advisory committee on the future of smoking at Western meeting is set for early November. Hutchison said the committee is confirming timelines and will continue to gather community input. She said members look to gather broad and specific feedback, for example: what people think the policy around indigenous smoking exemptions should be?

"The goal is to change the culture," Bumbacco said. "Much like you wouldn’t think of lighting up a cigarette in your classroom today, 30 years ago you might have. We want it to be that next year or the year after, you wouldn’t think of lighting up a cigarette in the middle of campus."

Students, staff and faculty can send questions and feedback to cleartheair@uwo.ca.

With files from Martin Allen and Hill Du.

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