Australian University Bans the Ban

Posted 12th September 2018 by Mawsley
The University of Newcastle (UON) Australia has announced that it is reversing its whole-campus ban on smoking and vaping. The decision has been made for pragmatic reasons and has caused staunch anti-vape campaigner Simon Chapman to do cartwheels in logic.

The University writes: “UON is dedicated to providing a safe and healthy environment for staff, students and visitors to our campuses. We are proud to support a smoke-free experience.”

“From September 2018, designated smoking areas have been introduced at three locations on our Ourimbah campus and at eight locations across the Callaghan campus, included three in the student residence precinct.”

Instead of a total ban on smoking and vaping, albeit that vaping suffers from a de facto ban across the whole of Australia, nicotine users can now utilise the shelters provided. But why is the university doing this in the face of four years of tobacco control failure?

Nat McGregor, UON’s chief operating officer, said: “the decision made by our executive committee, was not taken lightly. The health and safety of our campus environments is a priority that can only be achieved through the responsible behaviour of all.”

“Unfortunately, we have clear evidence that our smoking restrictions were being ignored in enough volume to cause real concern. Our smoke-free initiative resulted in people smoking in areas that are not appropriately cleared, increasing the risk of fire, as well as causing pollution to our wetlands from discarded cigarette butts. After an extremely dry winter, the risk of bushfire is heightened this year, and appropriate action was needed to safeguard our community.”

Hopefully, the decision will feed into a more enlightened stance on alternative cessation products. Still listed on the UON’s website, the only advice it offers smokers looking to quit is to consult this.

For vaping, it states: “There is no convincing scientific evidence to indicate that any of these alternative quit smoking methods will increase your chances of quitting.”

The advice is for smokers to use “your own willpower” or make use of counselling and NRT. Moreover, it warns that vaping won’t work, will be expensive, and carries “significant health risks”.

Predictably, Simon Chapman described it as “an Australian first, but in the wrong direction. I know of no other campus that has done this. But worse, I know of no other institution, government or company anywhere which has gone into policy reverse gear on this.”

“The bushfire prevention argument is frankly ridiculous,” Mr Chapman said. “Would the university reverse its policies on other unacceptable behaviours?”

But wait a minute…isn’t this the same Simon Chapman who, in 2008, believed that stopping smoking outdoors infringed personal freedom? (British Medical Journal article)

In fact, he maintained this position in 2015, when he called outdoor bans “paternalistic”. In a rare moment of lucidity, he added: “fleeting encounters with cigarette plumes in wide-open spaces pose a near homeopathic level of risk to others,” and likened those pushing for outdoor smoking bans to be "redolent of totalitarian regimes in their penchants for repressing various liberties."

Readers will wonder if outdoor smoking bans are still paternalistic, or whether he has redefined paternalism and what constitutes a totalitarian regime.

Professor Billie Bonevski, a researcher at the UON’s Faculty of Health and Medicine, previously wrote in support of vaping as a quit tool: “A review published in 2016 of all the available research on whether e-cigarettes help smokers quit concluded that they appeared to be as effective as other forms of nicotine replacement therapy.”

“The evidence on the safety of e-cigarettes suggests they are likely to be much safer and pose meaningfully lower risk of harm than continued tobacco smoking. Population data from countries like the US and UK … shows that youth smoking has not increased at all in that time.”

Bonnie confirms that the university is still committed to helping people quit by carrying out strong science: “This decision does not have anything to do with tobacco control research or researchers at the university. We are committed to research promoting ways to help people quit.”