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University of Copenhagen
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No legal hurdle to school-wide smoking ban

Occupational health — Some local councils in Denmark have already banned employees from smoking during working hours. The university could do the same. But a union rep says the proposal is a non-starter

In an op-ed published last week, law professor Kirsten Ketscher labelled her workplace on Søndre Campus “a smoker’s mecca”. Ketscher finds the students and employees who smoke outside the new university building on Amager a nuisance.

According to Ketscher, being exposed to second-hand smoke is a violation of occupational-health laws guaranteeing smoke-free workplaces.

Her proposal is a campus-wide ban on smoking at the University of Copenhagen, the country’s largest educational institution. She is also calling for efforts to ensure that smokers don’t light up on campus.

“The smoke-in needs to stop. Smokers at KUA should be forced out to Ørestad Boulevard, where they can add their fumes to the car exhaust – which itself is disappearing as more electric cars take the road,” Ketscher wrote.

Non-starter for university unions

All educational institutions in Denmark are required to have a smoking policy. The university’s was worked out by the General Collaboration Committee (HSU). In short, it states that smoking inside is banned, but smoking outside is okay, provided no-one is bothered by it.

If someone does happen to smoke where they shouldn’t, the department head or chief administrator is responsible for giving the individual a warning or even a reprimand.

Any decision to implement a uni-wide smoking ban would be a matter for the HSU.

Second-hand smoke, mass killer

According to the World Health Organisation, as many as half of all smokers will die from smoking-related illnesses. An estimated seven million people worldwide die each year from smoking, some 900,000 of them from the effects of second-hand smoke.

But smoking hasn’t been on the agenda during union reps’ meetings for years, according to Joan Lykkeaa, the shop steward for HK Laboranter, which represents lab techs.

The current version of the smoking policy is from April 2014, and the adjustments made then dealt mostly with electronic cigarettes.

“I can’t support a campus-wide ban. It should be up to employees to decide for themselves what sort of habits they want to have. But I am fully behind not bothering others, and that includes all the butts you see everywhere,” Lykkeaa wrote in an e-mail.

Workplace ban possible

If the university put an end to smoking on campus, it would join a growing list of educational institutions and other public-sector employers doing so. Primary schools and gymnasiums, for example, ban on-campus smoking almost universally. Some employers go further and have smoking policies that exceed the minimums set by national smoking legislation.

Similarly, council employees in Allerød, north of Copenhagen, are prohibited from smoking at any time, and in any place during working hours. Including when they are off council property. The policy was inspired by a smoking-cessation campaign organised by Kræftens Bekæmpelse, the Danish cancer society. No universities in Denmark have banned smoking entirely, but Kræftens Bekæmpelse is working on changing that.

“At some schools, smoking is ingrained in social life. It is a part of the culture and young people will try to fit in to the mainstream culture from their first day there. Smoking can be your ticket to a social life. But, if you take away the smoking, socialisation and breaks suddenly assume a new character. Students are no longer smokers and non-smokers,” Kræftens Bekæmpelse writes on its smoking-cessation website.

According to Kræftens Bekæmpelse, there is no legal reason why the university cannot ban smoking entirely.

“A workplace’s (or university’s) smoking policy can be as strict as the management wants it to be,” Kræftens Bekæmpelse wrote in an e-mail.

Ketscher agrees. She reckons that, should it choose to do so, the administration would be within its authority to tell students, faculty and staff to stop smoking on campus.

“The administration has the right to ban its employees from smoking during working hours. The legal precedent for this was set a long time ago,” she said.

University Post visited Søndre Campus last week to talk to smokers about efforts to make their pastime a crime.

The administration has not returned a request for comment. Should they reach out to us, we’ll publish their response.