No smoke without referendum

 
 

As UCD students vote on the introduction of a smoke free campus, Rebecca Hart gauges the general opinion surrounding the possible ban

The smoking ban, introduced in March 2004, was initially met with scepticism by the Irish, who traditionally held a universally acclaimed image as a nation of drinkers and smokers. However, in the last decade, the ban has been deemed a success by those in the health industry. Cigarette sales fell by 60% in the first year, as over 7,000 people gave up smoking.

But smoking doesn’t just affect the health of smokers. It also has a detrimental effect on the environment and those non-smokers residing in it. When Universitas Indonesia released the results of its Green Metric ranking of world universities, the University of Limerick ranked as one of Ireland’s top green universities. They excelled in waste reduction and recycling, and have plans in place to implement a total smoking ban on campus in 2014.

If the referendum, due to be held on 1st and 2nd October, is passed, UCD could be the first Irish campus to impose a smoking ban. Even if the students vote against the ban, the University could still implement it, as the referendum is just to establish UCDSU’s stance on the issue that UCD are considering. It has been suggested that an outright ban will lead to a cleaner environment, which in turn will improve the health of students and staff on campus.

A 2008 study by Oxford University in England found that healthier students can attain better grades. Statistics showed that students who had a full breakfast could focus for 13% longer than those who attended classes on an empty stomach.

Students living in accommodation where a meal was provided for them, as opposed to relying on take-away and fast food, received higher grades, averaging at 8% higher than their convenience food eating counterparts.

Minister for Health, James Reilly, is implementing a strategy in universities where the entire campus will become smoke free, meaning lecturers and students will no longer be able to step outside to have a cigarette. The aim is “to make smoking seem less normal in the eyes of young, influential people, and to ensure it is not seen as an attractive habit.”

He plans to rid Ireland of cigarette smoke by 2025, which will be no easy achievement. At present, 29% of the population are smokers, despite a pack of cigarettes averaging at €9.40.

While there are many in favour of a smokeless Ireland, a substantial number of people believe smoking is a choice every individual has the right to make. Forest Eireann, an organisation advocating the right to enjoy smoking, represents those who are against a tobacco free country.

They acknowledge the health risks associated with smoking, and accept the need for restrictions, but do not accept the controlling effects of the government. They aim to protect the interest of adults who choose to smoke or consume tobacco and claim to debunk some of the myths about smoking.

John Mallon, a spokesperson for the organisation, disagrees with the government’s new strategies. “Second hand smoke is not harmful. Unpleasant, but not harmful. Outdoors the dissipation of smoke is so total as to make it impossible to arrive at the conclusion that there is any danger.”

According to Mallon, no scientific or medical research has been carried out to prove that smoking outdoors can have a harmful effect on those in the vicinity. He believes the new and extended smoking ban will de-normalise individuals who smoke, while also taking away their right of choice, which is a basic human right.

He feels the smoking ban in Ireland has reduced diversity, and believes that since the ban was introduced in Ireland, people are less inclined to go out to pubs and bars. Being unable to smoke in places like this has resulted in a decrease in business since the introduction of the ban.

In UCD, there has been a mixed reaction to a total smoking ban. Alison MacDermott, a first year Arts student, is opposed to a total ban. She believes, “[Smoking] is a social activity and a way for people to make friends.” She acknowledges the opposing side, saying, “I understand that it is damaging to people’s health, but a total ban isn’t the way to solve it. If people want to smoke, they will find a way to do so.”

Both lecturers and students will be affected by the ban, as it will no longer be possible to smoke between classes. Instead, smokers will have to leave the campus to light up, which could have a strong impact on the social aspect of stepping out for a cigarette.

Supporters of the ban are many. A Science student speaking to the University Observer agrees with the idea of a smoke free campus, saying that while she believes people have the right to choose to smoke, they should not do it “in a place where others will be subjected to secondary smoke.”

She continues, “A total ban will provide a clean environment for studying and will reduce disruption to lectures as people come in late having gone for a smoking break between classes.”

A more neutral view of the possible initiation of a smoke free campus is the opinion that smokers should simply avoid imposing on other non-smokers. Arthur Wellington, a fifth year Engineering student, agrees with this view.

He believes, “Those who wish to smoke can do as they may, as long as they stay ten feet from the doorways.” This means that other users of the entrance and exit won’t have to walk through a cloud on entering and leaving the building.

The referendum, which is held on the proposal, “This union supports the smoke free campus initiative, as proposed by the UCD health promotion committee,” will see whether the students of UCD value the right of choice.

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