‘A dead body on a pack doesn’t scare me’

Don’t ban smokers, help them

Smoking has been banned around almost all UG properties and the rules will become even stricter come summer. But does this method work to discourage smokers? 
By Nivine de Jong and Fay van Odijk

‘A dead body on my pack of cigarettes doesn’t scare me off. It barely registers anymore’, says economics student Wouter Pröpper (20). He mainly smokes when he goes out, but ‘when I have a pack, I also find myself lighting up after dinner. It really relaxes me. When I’m studying it’s a great way to take a break: coffee and a cigarette’.

The anti-smoking efforts have not had any effect on him yet. This might change this summer, though, when smoking in outdoor cafés will also be banned. ‘That’s a real shame, because smoking is so great when the weather is nice.’

It might actually cause him to light up less, ‘because I can’t imagine I’d get up from my chair every time I want a smoke’. He won’t actually quit unless he can’t afford cigarettes anymore. Starting April 1, a pack will cost at least 8 euros. ‘I’ll probably consider cutting down. If they ever go up to something like 12 euros, I’d definitely quit.’

New measures

The government has been trying to get people to quit for years. First, they banned smoking at work, then at pubs and restaurants. Excise taxes on cigarettes kept going up, and off-putting text and pictures were printed on the packs. Now they’re planning a new set of measures. The excise taxes will go up once again, smoking areas in pubs and restaurants will be banned, and starting July 1, cigarettes can no longer be displayed in view at supermarkets.

If cigarette packs ever start costing 12 euros, I’ll quit

There is one measure that will impact UG staff and students most, though: from August 1 onwards, smoking will be banned on all campuses. It’s a national regulation that neatly fits in with the city of Groningen’s goals to become the first smoke-free city in the Netherlands.

The UG has rallied behind this goal and has been working on discouraging people from smoking for several years. ‘We’re trying to do so through positive connotation; clear signage and stewards who tell people when they’re smoking somewhere they shouldn’t be’, says spokesperson Jorien Bakker.

Effect

Is this having the desired effect on smoking students? It’s certainly not working on Bart Themmen (26), a pre-master student of strategic innovation management. He enjoys a cigarette when he’s studying. ‘It helps me think and wakes me up’, he explains. Many of his friends also smoke, which makes it easier to light up. ‘I don’t feel like people look at me differently because I smoke.’

He doesn’t think a smoking ban will work. ‘Banning smoking in certain areas doesn’t solve the problem; people just go somewhere else. If they can’t smoke somewhere, they’ll just go around the corner. But these new measures are getting pretty obnoxious’, he says. ‘Especially at Zerrnike.’

It’s a minimal risk to non-smokers, so how does that justify a smoking ban?

Social psychology professor Arie Dijkstra says banning smoking outside is ‘an ethical boundary’. He specialises in addiction and behavioural modification. ‘Outside is well-ventilated, so there’s minimal risk to non-smokers. How does that justify a smoking ban? You can’t refer to the negative effects of second-hand smoke. All you do is frustrate smokers, without actually helping them quit. I think that goes too far.’

He thinks the UG’s anti-smoking policies are more a matter of image, partially because of internationalisation. ‘Image is really important to universities. International students often think it’s weird that smoking is allowed everywhere. With this ban, the UG shows that it’s concerned with people’s health. But why? Sure, hospitals have to set the right example, but the UG doesn’t really need to.’

Constant reminder

If the UG really cared about people’s health, says Dijkstra, it should implement other measures. ‘Talk to the smokers and offer them a trip to the university medical officer, instead of just banning smoking.’

Janneke Bennen (23), who studies economics and business economics as well as movement sciences, is actually quite happy that it’s becoming increasingly difficult for her to smoke. ‘I’m constantly reminded how bad smoking is for my health. Also, it prevents me from bothering others with my smoking.’

I’m constantly reminded how bad smoking is for my health

Wouter is also positive about the UG’s policy of deterrence. ‘I think it’s a good thing they’re working on banning smoking outside the UB. All those cigarette butts on the ground are a horrible sight.’

Not that he’ll smoke any less for it. ‘I just smoke whenever I feel like it. Unless I’m with my friends’ parents or my own parents. Then I’ll save it for later’, says Wouter. ‘I feel like they’d judge me because they don’t smoke.’

Social standards

That’s pretty much the only effect a smoking ban will ever have, says Dijkstra: ‘It creates a social standard that says that you disapprove of smoking. People feel pressured by this.’

Dijkstra just doesn’t see how this works at the UG. ‘Students are in a specific stage in their lives. Only 10 to 20 percent of students actually smoke, and 5 to 10 percent of them will quit once they graduate.’ In other words, why bother?

People feel pressured by a social standard that says smoking is disapproved of

Students Janneke and Wouter are living proof of his theorem. Janneke wants to quit before the summer is up, because of her physical health as well as her financial health. ‘If they’d increased the price of a pack of smokes to 10 euros all at once instead of just 20 cents at a time, I would’ve quit a long time ago.’

Wouter is allowing himself a bit more leeway. ‘I want to have quit by the time I graduate’, he says. ‘I don’t want to smell like smoke once I have a job, and because it’s unhealthy. I want to set the right example for my future kids. I’ve made a deal with myself that it’s over once I graduate.’

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