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Shame Shelters of Melbourne Uni

Friday, 17 July, 2015

“Why don’t you step into your prison cell, there you go…that’s where you belong, in that cubicle”, he said, laughing and seemingly joking with one of his friends who was smoking in a designated smoking area.

She laughed back and said, “Don’t say that, I don’t need to go in there, just because I smoke it doesn’t mean I need to be caged up.”

The girl who was smoking seemed to be offended by her friend’s remark, but they continued to carry on with the conversation, avoiding the awkwardness beneath their words.

On February 4th 2014, also known as World Cancer Day, the University of Melbourne introduced the controversial smoke-free campaign, causing a social division on campus grounds.

One-year later: students have developed mixed emotions towards the labeled smoking areas; some enjoy the smoke-free atmosphere, while others are worried about their ability to have their freedom of choice.

The City of Melbourne started the thread of ‘smoke-free’ zones within the city in recent years, aiming to “protect the community from passive smoking by expanding smoke-free areas.” The Melbourne CBD has established smoke-free zones in outdoor cafes, near transport systems and building premises.
Swinburne University was one of the first to implement this strategy, followed by RMIT, Monash and La Trobe Universities joining the domino effect.

On Melbourne University’s grounds, some students feel they are being subjected to stand within “shaming shelters”, according to Jemma Hefter, a PhD student on Screen and Cultural Studies. Her eyes flickered in frustration, waving her hands in a heated motion during our conversation.

As much as Ms. Hefter is conscientious of others who don’t smoke and can appreciate the reason behind the smoke-free policy for the environment, she believes that “it essentially gives certain people who have more of a power streak the ability to be far more conservative.”

The University of Melbourne prides itself on giving students the education necessary to set out into the world as free thinkers. Some students believe that the ban is an infringement of personal choice, essentially contradicting the university’s values.

According to an Environments student Edip Buyukbekir, the smoking cubicles are “confining and annoying, when I have classes that run for three hours long it takes me about five minutes to walk to the cubicles just to have a cigarette. They’re too far and scattered.”

“I’m all about being green and urban friendly, but they’re telling us what we can and can’t do at a university that allows us to have freedom of expression,” said Mr. Buyukbekir.

On the contrary, Arts student Jenna as a smoker believes that the smoking cubicles “are a good idea.”
“If you’re a smoker it’s horrible and people don’t like it, but it’s nice not having to go off campus,” she said. Jenna prefers the campus with smoking areas. “I like it when there are places to sit, but the ones near Alice Hoy are terrible when there isn’t anywhere to sit.”

Some students deem that there wasn’t much of a social barrier between smokers and non-smokers on campus before the designated areas had been established. According to a Master of Art History student Jess Macjen, the designated cubicles create “silent judgment against smokers.”

“They are unnecessary and inconvenient, as it segregates a certain group within the university, whilst it doesn’t stop people from actually cutting smoking,” Macjen said.

More than 27 per cent of 18-24 year-olds smoke, according to a 2012 Australian Government report.

Melbourne University declares “university owned or-controlled buildings and properties” as smoke-free zones, which also includes student-housing accommodation. Students who smoke will have to leave the premises of the campus to have a cigarette.

Monash Student Association President Ben Knight has shared concerns about the smoke-free policy also implemented at Monash University campuses, according to Melbourne Tribune writer Ben Grant,

“We have about 2,000 students living on campus which is a large number, and the geographic size of the campus is also large which makes it difficult for students to find a safe place to smoke at certain times of the day”, said Mr. Knight.

Although many students may support a ban, Mr. Knight contended that the safety of students should be at the top of the list.

“Many classes run until dark, and you also have to consider the amount of students living on campus who smoke.”

Melbourne University may face similar issues, as the safety of students is an important element of the smoke-free project to consider.

Recently, a notice has been posted on every smoking cubicle on campus stating that the booths will be completely removed by mid 2015. “Alternative arrangements” have been made with the Melbourne Council and the university will become a completely smoke-free campus with Butt Bins adjacent to the campus.

An anonymous staff member who does not wish to be identified, believes that the policy is essentially a good thing and “there is a duty of care for staff, students and the general public.”

“It’s a lifelong challenge for most people, so having the smoking zones will be the only way they can control it”, the source said.

As the university aims to keep the campus grounds healthy and proactive, quality control may not be able to solve everything.

“You can’t police the health of every single person, it comes down to the right of the individual,” Ms. Hefter said.