New non-smoking policy won’t change much ‘We are frontrunners’
Many educational institutes have voluntarily taken steps to create a smoke-free environment, but health undersecretary Paul Blokhuis is disappointed with current results. He has set a clear deadline: all educational institutes have to ban smoking on their premises by 2020 and the NVWA (Dutch Food Safety Authority) will ensure they succeed.
How will the RUG enforce the smoking ban? According to RUG spokesperson Jorien Bakker, no one’s sure just yet. In fact, the news of the new deadline came as a surprise to her. But, she says, they won’t have to do much more than they’re doing now; they’re a frontrunner when it comes to banning smoking.
The first no-smoking signs were put up near RUG buildings as far back as October 2017. Bakker says the university wasn’t surprised when no one bothered to obey the signs: ‘There are three distinct communication goals: knowledge, attitude, and behaviour. Conveying knowledge is easy. Changing people’s attitudes is pretty tricky, but changing their behaviour is almost impossible. For example, the government has been campaigning against smoking and fireworks for forty years. It’s extremely difficult.’
She doesn’t think the RUG will be fined if people smoke on its premises anyway, but she’s not entirely sure. ‘We’re already ahead of the curve. But again, changing people’s behaviour can be a process that takes years, and we have new students coming in every year. So, we have to keep starting over.’
Stewards and concierges chase off smokers hanging out near the entrances now and again, but their efforts seem pointless because the smokers always return. The RUG isn’t authorised to hand out fines.
‘We’re not punishing people, either’, says Bakker, ‘because we don’t want people to see us as the bogeyman. They’re the ones that have to make a change. They should realise that they are bothering their colleagues and want to put a stop to it themselves. Quitting would also be a healthy choice for them. Ultimately, it’s not the RUG’s responsibility. We don’t have to teach students how to bike, either.’
A smoke-free centre
The municipality of Groningen may just have the solution when it comes to enforcing the smoking ban on RUG premises in the city centre. They would like the entire city centre to be smoke-free. This would mean an adjustment to the General Local By-Law allowing the municipality to declare certain public spaces as smoke-free and to hand out fines to people violating the ban.
University council member Ruben Tan, who forms the One Man Gang, feels the university could be a little nicer to smokers until the ban is enforced. Since the smoking ban near the entrances of RUG buildings around the Broerplein went into effect, the smokers have nowhere to go but the square itself. But because there are no ashtrays, says Tan, the square is littered with cigarette butts. He wants the university to place ashtrays in the square and for one of the two University Library’s balconies to become a smoking lounge again.
The smoking ban will remain in force everywhere at the UB, says Bakker, especially since the undersecretary wants to tighten the rules. The arrival of ashtrays is up for discussion, and the University council will debate in April.