In 2014, the first step of UCD’s smoke free campus was rolled out, with the banning of the sale of cigarettes on campus. Since 2015, the University has been announcing further steps in this policy, with maps showing which areas are smoke free. In reality only the first of these rules is known by the majority of smokers, which is the prohibition of smoking within 10 meters of the entrance of a building. Even with this rule being well known, it is often flouted. One of the most popular buildings to smoke within 10 meters of is the Newman building, which has had a ban independant of the smoke free policy, on smoking near the entrance since 2008. With no knowledge of the rules, and much less enforcement of them, the Smoke-free Campus Working Group seem to be talking to no-one when they claim to be on stage three of their plan.
Another campus wide health policy was introduced last year with the ban on the sale of ‘sugar sweetened beverages’, this time without the support of the Students’ Union. Initiated by Hospitality Services Manager Odhran Lawlor and the Healthy UCD Working Group, the ban applied to drinks with added sugar, leaving fruit juices and drinks with sugar alternatives available. It began with a “seven week trial”, after which the University declared the initiative a success and decided that the ban was going to remain. There are two categories of success here, first that sugar free drinks sales increased, and second that there was no complaint about the lack of sugary drinks. The fact that alternatives to unavailable sugary drinks were chosen is a given, but the claim that there was no complaint is untrue. Posts on social media by Union shop employees show that there was plenty of complaints, it’s just not from the people that UCD asked.
Another point which makes the sugar ban something of a farce is the nature of the drinks still available. The sugar in fruit juices and water flavoured with fruit juice, is similar to the sugar content of many traditional sodas, and has a similar effect on the body. Changing from one source of sugar to another because one is deemed an “added” but the other “natural” does scant for one’s health.
There is an incredibly healthy option for thirsty students, which is water. Currently there are 13 drinking water fountains in UCD excluding those in the gym. Many faculty buildings don’t have a single drinking fountain, leaving many people having to buy their water from a catering service. Ignoring the environmental impact of vast numbers of disposable bottles, the price difference between water and one any of the less healthy alternatives is negligible, with some drinks costing less than the bottled water. The health-conscious have already been choosing the healthy option, but if the aim is to guide the decisions of the rest of the student body to health, it’s beyond misguided to price drinks this way.
Implied above is a clear solution to the supposed problem of people drinking unhealthy drinks. Install more drinking water fountains. The health of those who are thirsty and in a rush would be protected from the scourge of sugary drinks, and those who want their energy drinks and juices wouldn’t be prevented from getting their hit, not to mention the waste of plastic would reduce dramatically. From a health perspective there’s no down side to this as a policy. The only arguments against this policy are monetary, a common theme in University Management’s decisions despite claims of wellbeing being the concern in question.
The two reasons for not installing fountains would be the expense of the instillation and the potential loss for the hospitality services. Incidentally, these are the arguments against microwaves in faculty buildings. However, microwaves would violate the rights of contractors such as the arts cafe to be the sole providers of hot food in certain buildings. No such clause exists around drinking water fountains, which essentially amount to potable tap water. As for the cost of installation, the budget for building new buildings and renovating old buildings is clearly high enough to provide for the construction of drinking water fountains.
Another issue to consider is that the drinks banned are the same as are taxed under new legislation. The conclusion that money is the major concern in this decision, rather than student health, is neither reasonable nor inconsistent with UCD’s decisions on funding for the mental health services, the closing of the staff common room, and so many other areas.
The question, then, is how this ties in with the failed smoke-free campus, or other similar health initiatives in universities across the country. Banning unhealthy activities or substances, while failing to aid in the alternatives, is a poor way of helping students improve their health, especially when many students involved are perfectly aware that their health is put at risk by sugar and tobacco, they simply choose their vices because it gives them some pleasure. Claims that we are a “smoke-free” and “sugar-free” campus are fantastical claims, however, can be found in literature and prospectuses aimed at potential students and investors. Fantastical in both senses, as they are both appealing and positive, the image of a healthy and clean environment, but fantastical mistruths that accurately describe our campus.