Will smokers at USP have to cycle to find a spot to light their cigarette in 2021?

If it’s up to the UU, the entire Utrecht Science Park will become a smoke-free zone. Photo: Pixabay

Starting in January, Utrecht University is legally required to make its education grounds – spread out over three campuses – smoke-free. That means that no smoking is allowed anywhere within or around the UU’s buildings. The smokers’ shacks will be demolished and enforcers will be hired to patrol.

The smoking ban officially went into effect in August, but the Dutch Food Safety Authority (NVWA) will start enforcing the ban in 2021, possibly issuing fines as well. Violating the rules could cost the university between 600 and 4,500 euros. Smokers will not have to fear getting fined.

Preferably no smoking at the tram stops either
The UU has postponed the change as a result of the corona regulations, but it will have to adhere to the law from January on.

So far, the assumption had been that smoking would still be allowed on public roads, which includes the streets, most bicycle paths, pavements, and the bus and tram tracks. It has since become clear that smoking at tram stops will not be forbidden, but rather discouraged in the entire Utrecht Science Park.

On January 3 – when the new tram schedule goes into effect – all stops for tram 22 will be declared smoke-free zones, according to Ron van Dopperen from the province administration. “It won’t be a ban, and we won’t be enforcing it. We don’t have the manpower to do so.”

Van Dopperen says the tram stops on medical grounds are smoke-free at the request of the UMCU, the Wilhelmina Children’s Hospital, and the Princess Máxima Centre. “Based on that trial, we want to make the other tram stops throughout the entire track smoke-free as well. When the tram runs to Nieuwegein and IJsselstein again, we’ll do the same there.”

In January, posters will be put up at the tram stops, announcing them as smoke-free zones. “The province would like to make bus stops smoke-free as well, but to do so, we need to discuss it with the municipality. That’s still an ongoing process.”

Desire: all of Utrecht Science Park smoke-free
The university would like to see the entire Utrecht Science Park become smoke-free. That includes the public transport stops, the bus and tram tracks, and the public roads in the Utrecht Science Park, according to the meeting between the Executive Board and the University Council on Monday, December 7. “Otherwise, you’d be allowed to smoke on the tram tracks, and that would cause congestion,” said university president Anton Pijpers. “I don’t think it’s desirable to have people smoking there.”

University Council member Gert Folkers wondered where die-hard smokers would go then, if all the university grounds, including the public roads, become smoke-free. “Is the intent to force someone to cycle five kilometres just to be able to smoke? What would that bike ride mean for the employability of smokers?” Another question was whether the university would be willing to assist smokers who want to quit, as it’s done before in the past.

Last resort for smokers: giving up free time
Anton Pijpers says all UUers had enough time to prepare themselves for this new reality in the past few months. “We’d be happy to help smokers, or refer them to experts. The UMC Utrecht shows that it can be done. Of course it’ll be difficult for smokers, but there’s not a lot else we can do. It’s a strict governmental policy, and as an institution we could be facing fines of up to 4,500 euros.”

Rector Henk Kummeling thinks that it will take smokers some time getting used to not being able to smoke on campus. “It’s a complicated matter but it’s also an insurmountable route.” As for the employability of people who smoke: “As a last resort, we’re already seeing agreements being made with certain people who don’t want to quit smoking”: agreements about giving up free hours and days, because they’re unable to commit to the labour effort that’s expected of them on a regular workday. We can make similar agreements with other smokers.”

Project to make USP smoke-free to start with university grounds
Maarten Post, spokesperson for the university, explained after the meeting that the USP can only become entirely smoke-free after reaching agreements with all the partner organizations at the Utrecht Science Park. Furthermore, the university is talking with the province about the bus and tram tracks, and with the municipality about the public roads and bicycle paths in De Uithof. “We want to make the entire USP smoke-free as that would be the clearest option, as well as to prevent an undesirable ‘waterbed effect’. We don’t want people smoking on the pavement or at a bus stop where non-smokers also have to pass by.”

Moreover, the exact borders of university grounds and public roads are hard to define, which makes things difficult for the UU enforcers. Post: “They’re not authorised to enforce on grounds that don’t belong to the university.” Originally,  the UU had wanted to keep the smoke shacks, but legislature forbids it. Signs will indicate where the smoking ban will be enforced. “When the rest of the USP also becomes smoke-free depends on what we agree upon with our partners.”

Free zone for USP residents
What about the students who live in De Uithof and at the International Campus? Well, there will be a designated zone for them. Officially, they’re on university grounds as soon as they walk out the door. The university and student housing organisation SSH say they intend to create regulations that will still allow these residents to smoke, but they’re still discussing ideas. “It’s not yet known where these zones will start and end, yet,” says an SSH spokesperson.

The areas to become smoke-free in 2021 are highlighted in dark grey in the map below.


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