Continuing her quest for clean campus air

By Paul Mayne
January 12, 2012

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Paul Mayne, Western News
Fourth-year Health Sciences student Stephanie Kwolek hopes to change university policy to introduce designated smoking areas on campus.

Stephanie Kwolek is looking to bring a breath of fresh air to Western’s campus.

Through her fourth-year Health Sciences independent study assignment, Butt Out! Designated Smoking Area Pilot Project, Kwolek hopes to reduce smoking rates among the university community, decrease involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke and create an environmentally friendly campus.

This student-driven project received a lot of the initial groundwork from Butt Out, a University Students’ Council (USC) registered club focused on health promotion and anti-tobacco industry advocacy. Kwolek is the club’s president.

“We’ve been researching how we can reduce smoking on campus and how to make our campus a healthier place for everyone,” says the Sault Ste. Marie native. “We really needed someone to do the leg work behind it. So I decided to turn it into a research project. It’s something we want to implement, but we want to make sure it was based on substantial research and that we were doing it correctly.”

While current university policy allows smoking beyond 10 metres from the entrance to any building, Kwolek says it’s difficult to enforce. That means many non-smokers have to ‘walk the gauntlet’ when entering some buildings, in particular the popular smoking area outside The D. B. Weldon Library, which has the one main entrance.

“You have to voluntarily go through that. It’s really a narrow area and you have no other way to enter,” Kwolek says.

In working with Algoma Public Health in Sault Ste. Marie, the London & Middlesex Health Unit, along with USC and Western’s Facilities Management, Kwolek set up a designated smoking area this past October at the southwest corner of the Social Sciences Centre, near the University Community Centre.

While it has been used, Kwolek admits it will take time for most smokers to learn about the new area and, since it is not yet university policy, be willing to use it. She adds a campus-wide survey to evaluate student opinions will go out shortly.

“The goal was to have a bottom-up project to have the students helping in implementing the policy,” Kwolek says. “And it’s more likely to be successful if you have the students implement it because they are the ones affected by it.

“The pilot project is looking at why we should look at implementing designated smoking areas on campus, what would be beneficial from that and why we should target this age group.”

Kwolek says this young adult demographic (18-24 years), which she refers to as the “forgotten group” in tobacco control, have the highest smoking rate of all the age groups according to the 2010 Canadian Tobacco Use Monitoring Survey.

“This is a group that doesn’t have a lot of programming targeted toward it in terms of prevention,” she says. “There are a lot of cessation programming to help people quit, but there is not a lot of other pro-active approaches.”

In November, Kwolek presented her work at the National Conference on Tobacco or Health. She also took part in a research competition at the Canadian Undergraduate Conference on Health Care in Toronto, where she won three of the six awards presented at the event.

Kwolek says it’s about changing social norms. While having a completely smoke-free campus, such as Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University, would be the pinnacle, she understands it’s not feasible at this time.

“Perhaps in the long term, we could go smoke-free, but we have to take steps to get there,” she admits. “We need to change opinions, change views and supply adequate smoking cessations. We can’t implement this type of policy if we don’t have quit smoking aids.”

Through the Middlesex-London Health Unit’s Leave the Pack Behind program and Western’s Student Health Services, students are allowed to get free smoking cessations aids on campus.

Kwolek looked at research from other institutions who have begun phasing in designated smoking areas on their campuses – such as the University of Windsor and Lakehead University – to learn the ups and downs they’ve experienced. In working with USC and Western administration, Kwolek hopes her designated smoking area between the UCC and Social Science will become policy this September.

“We think it’s something that has to be community-wide, so people have to be willing to speak up, and wanting less second-hand smoke around campus,” Kwolek says.

This isn’t a policy against smokers, or targeting smokers specifically, it’s just about creating a healthier campus.

“We recognize smoking addiction,” she continues. “We recognize that it is difficult to quit and our goal is to possibly, through a policy like this, make it less appealing to smoke and create an incentive for people to quit.”

While preparing to graduate this June, Kwolek will continue to collaborate with other post-secondary institutions to create a unified effort aimed at reducing tobacco use on campuses, including Western.

“It will occur in steps, but I think we can get there,” she says.


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