Smoking policy in Student Charter triggers discussion in the UU Council

Tile at the smoking zone between the Olympos Sports Centre and the parking area. Photo: DUB

Each year, the University draws up the Student Charter, which sets out the general rights and obligations of the students. The University Council has the right of consent to this document, which states, among other things, that students must register annually for their studies and that they must pay tuition fees to do so. But it also includes matters such as rules of conduct, financial support for students who are delayed and the way in which students can lodge an objection about examination results, to name but a few.

This year, the Charter has been supplemented with passages about flex-studying. In a number of Bachelor's programmes, a special group of students can study at their own pace. They pay tuition fees per course.

The second addition to the Charter is the smoking policy, which stipulates that smoking will be banned on university grounds in the city centre, the International Campus (UCU) and Utrecht Science Park from January 1st, 2021.

Smoking policy
This issue has already been the object of discussion in a University Council committee, which asked why the policy, which applies to the entire university, has been included in the student charter. The answer at the time was that the policy was new – by including it in the charter, UU hoped to draw more attention to it. After that discussion, the smoking policy remained in the document, causing a brief discussion during the meeting with the full University Council on the 26th of April.

The law prescribes a smoking ban in all areas related to education. Educational institutions violating this law risk being fined. The smoking ban entered into force on UU's grounds on the 1st of January, 2021. UU employs enforcers to ensure that students and staff comply with the ban, but there 's a problem: the Science Park is intersected by roads, bicycle paths, a tram line, and a bus lane, which do not belong to UU. Therefore, the smoking ban does not apply there.

Tolerated zones
In order to prevent smokers from standing in the middle of the road or on the tram tracks, thus becoming a danger to themselves and to others, the university asked the municipality and province of Utrecht to make those areas smoke-free as well. They complied. However, the municipality was happy to accommodate the smokers because it cannot forbid smoking on the road or at the bus stop. A general local regulation would be required to implement a full-blown ban. That's why tolerance zones have been established, where smokers can legally light up a cigarette. As there was no room for four zones on municipal grounds, two of them will be located on the university's grounds.

Stephan Verhulst's objection had to do with the existence of those two tolerance zones. “How can UU choose not to follow the law?”, he asked UU's President, Anton Pijpers. “I find it quite problematic that we are breaking the law. If the law requires us to be smoke-free, then we should be smoke-free.”

The president replied that UU chose not to follow the law to the letter in order to prevent smokers from standing on the tramway. Moreover, the municipality is planning on introducing a ban in due course, which will be included in the General Municipal By-Laws, according to Pijpers. But that is not going to happen before 2022.

“The law leaves no room for a tolerated zone on University grounds”, reacted Verhulst. “As a law student, I cannot agree to the Student Charter”. But the other council members did.