Trinity is a Living Lab with 79% less observed smoking

Posted on: 25 April 2023

Trinity is a Living Lab with 79% less observed smoking

Trinity College has used its College Green campus as a Living Lab to study the effect of smoke-free campus policies.  Trinity requests that people refrain from smoking outdoors on campus except in three restricted places. In a paper  just published, Trinity has shown a 79% reduction in observed smokers on campus from May 2016 to February 2020, following the introduction of restrictions in July 2016. Since then, ‘Healthy Trinity’ student ambassadors have walked the campus over 2,400 times observing 2,909 people smoking, recording adherence to the policy and people’s responses when asked to comply.  [Tuesday, 25th April 2023].

Initial attempts in 2014 to become a smoke-free campus were welcomed by staff and postgraduates, although undergraduates favoured smoke-free zones over a smoke-free campus.  

Three smoke-free zones were introduced in places where smoking at building entrances was most problematic. Observed smoking reduced by 79% from baseline in year 1 and by 83% in year 2. Building on that success, Trinity worked with TCDSU to negotiate a smoke-free campus policy. In 2018, 71% (of 1,447) students voted to become smoke-free. The smoke-free campus policy achieved a reduction in smoking from baseline of 75%; and 90% of people smoking complied when reminded of the policy.  

The Living Lab approach allowed students and staff to work with the Healthy Trinity Tobacco Group to develop campaigns, projects and/or events to support the smoke-free policy. Through that process, a broader healthy campus initiative was developed, new patterns of social smoking amongst young people were uncovered and the concerns that students had about the environmental harms of tobacco became obvious. 

Martina Mullin, Healthy Trinity Operational Lead and first author of the study, said:  

“We’re proud that Trinity now excludes the tobacco industry. And the use of the Living Lab approach has allowed us to really involve students in the process of doing so.  Students are worried about the climate crisis. It’s been very enjoyable to see them take climate action by saying no to the tobacco industry which does so much harm to people and the planet.” 

One of the paper’s co-authors Professor Emerita Shane Allwright, who led the research which informed Ireland’s 2004 Workplace Smoking Ban, said: 

“Ireland has been a leader in tobacco control in the past.  We would like the government to lead now on making all third level educational institutions tobacco-free.” 

Professor Catherine Hayes, a public health specialist and the paper’s senior author acknowledges that some people continue to smoke on campus and that outdoor vaping is allowed under the policy. She said:

“We will continue to work with Trinity’s students and staff to encourage people to comply with the smoke free policy. We will also review our policy on vaping in the coming months. The rise in use of disposable vapes is a key concern due to their harmful impacts on health and contribution to environmental waste.”   

The trouble with vaping 

Vaping is currently banned indoors in Trinity and the college will work with students and staff to decide if it should be banned outdoors too. Other organisations such as Sport Ireland and the HSE, have banned outdoor vaping.  Since the pandemic Trinity has seen a rise in vaping on campus.  The paper authors welcome the restrictions being imposed on vaping in the government’s bill due at the end of the year and in the context of the climate crisis are asking if there are grounds to ban all vaping because of the harm it causes to the planet as well as to people.  

Dr. David McGrath, Medical Director of College Health, Trinity College and co-author, expects to see controls currently applied to tobacco, extended to include vaping. He said: 

“For over 50 years, the Government, has acted to restrict the harm to individuals and society from products sold by the Tobacco Industry. Vaping, a new gateway product to tobacco, has been identified by the Government as a risk to young people and non-smokers, as described by the Minister for Health outlining the introduction of additional restrictions on the sale and advertising of nicotine inhaling products such as e-cigarettes. These measures are designed to protect our children and young people from starting to vape. We recognise that nicotine is a highly addictive drug, and we are acting today to make these products less accessible to our young people and to remove the advertising for these products from our children’s everyday lives.” 

If Trinity was to ban vaping outdoors, student ambassadors would be tasked with walking the campus and reminding people vaping of the policy.  Student ambassadors have expressed concerns about doing that with one student pointing out, that unlike cigarettes, vapes can be taken in and out of pockets very quickly, making them much harder to spot. 

The environmental harms of vaping have also been raised by students. Sarah Tanishka Nethan who is studying for a Masters in Global Health and is a Healthy Trinity ambassador said: 

“Many students are worried about the impact of vaping on the environment, particularly the waste from disposable vapes.”  

Healthy Trinity Ambassadors have been counting vaping on campus since November and their counts suggest that about half of all those vaping on campus use disposable vapes.    

During Green Week, a student initiative to recycle disposable vapes was introduced in Trinity.  Martina Mullin said: 

“Whilst I admire the initiative of the students who introduced this idea, I found it very depressing because it shows how normalised vaping is becoming amongst young people. For the tobacco industry, vaping is a return to the heyday of the 1950s. What would we lose if the Government banned vaping outright, other than as a cessation tool? While I can see that in the 20th century allowing smoking made sense because it generated GDP, allowing vaping to take hold in a climate crisis makes no sense.” 

Read the paper: ‘Use of a Living Lab approach to implement a smoke-free campus policy.’

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Ciara O’Shea | Media Relations | | +353 1 896 4204

Media Contact:

Martina Mullin Healthy Trinity Operational Lead Trinity College Dublin