28 May, 2014 Last updated: 30 Mar, 2015

By Jerril Rechter, VicHealth CEO

VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter

This World No Tobacco Day (May 31), Victoria is celebrating a new statewide initiative to protect students and academic staff from the dangers of cigarette smoke.

For the past six months, many Victorian universities have switched off smoking in an extraordinary show of voluntary health promotion activity across the state.

And now Deakin University has taken on the task of getting every tertiary institution in the state 100 per cent smoke free over the next 12 months. This marks the first time an entire state’s tertiary academic institutions have come together to voluntarily ban smoking.

The Victorian Universities Tobacco-Free Initiative means some 650,000 students, plus university staff and visitors, will be protected from second-hand smoke. Students and staff who smoke will be supported to quit and those who have beat the habit will be free from temptation.

What makes this initiative so unique is that it is driven by the institutions themselves, rather than as a requirement of legislation. VicHealth applauds Deakin for this ambitious project and we would like to see more organisations follow suit.

We know that tobacco companies purposefully target young people to lure new customers and have been known to set their sights on university students in particular. One big tobacco tactic which has gained notoriety overseas in recent years, is the provision of ‘underground’ smoking parties, with free cigarettes and alcohol on offer. There is evidence of these parties happening in Melbourne and Sydney in the past five years, however, they are kept hidden and are often arranged through Facebook and word of mouth.

However, University students are also an excellent group to target with smoke free messages. Around one in five people aged 18 to 29-years-old are regular smokers. By comparison, adults aged over 50 are significantly less likely to be smoking regularly at one in 10.
Swinburne University was the first to go completely smoke free in August 2013.

Only four other Australian Universities have complete smoking bans, including Curtin University, Edith Cowan University, University of Western Australia and Murdoch University.

LaTrobe and RMIT will follow suit by 31 May this year, Deakin will become smoke free by the end of this year. Melbourne University is taking a phased approach, with the smoking areas in place to be removed over the next 12 months. Similarly, Monash will confine smokers to ‘designated points’ this year ahead of going totally smoke free.

Deakin is leading this Victoria-wide collaboration on smoke free environments with a comprehensive plan to ensure the Initiative is implemented successfully.

The plan includes a pre and post project survey to measure any reduction of smoking among staff and students. It is expected smoke free campuses will save money associated with cleaning up cigarette butts and benefit the university’s reputation as an exemplary workplace.
Other advantages of going smoke free include a reduced risk of litigation from second hand smoke inhalation and increased productivity through a reduction in unauthorised breaks taken by staff to smoke.

While most Universities currently allow smoking in designated areas on campus, most, including Deakin, already prohibit tobacco related advertising, sponsorship or promotions on university premises and will not accept research funding from tobacco companies. 

All Victorians should be proud of the leadership our tertiary institutions have taken to start removing tobacco from their campuses.

- Jerril