Has the Spine gone up in smoke?

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Hidden among imposing fences, hard-hats, and excavators, is the University’s intent: to bring the kilometre-long Spine into the 21st Century. It is an ambitious, perhaps necessary project, and the industry with which it is taking place is to be applauded.

In the opinion of this column, however, there is one aspect of the 20th century spine that is being dragged along – irrespective of the project’s ambitions for modernity – into the 21st century. Despite the irritation of those who experience it, it has been normalized to the point of being unquestionable.
I refer to smoking.

The ongoing construction works have huddled us together, staff and student alike, into dismal queues from Fylde up to County. It adds insult to injury that these queues involve, on a daily basis, a cloud of smoke being blown into one’s face. Lectures are stressful, granted. The days are drawing in. November’s gloom is beginning to loom above us. But the above factors, dismal though they are, do not qualify as excuses to subject everyone else to the injudicious habit so commonly seen around campus.

Imagine, if you will, a group of prospective students and their families walking along the Spine on an open day. What perception must they form of the individual, and indeed what perception must they form of the institution after being subjected to the sight and smell of cigarette smoke?

This is not, however, about cultivating a mere image. It is about reputation, and about health. What cruel irony it is that we boast a Medical School, and a Medical Practice on campus, and yet to walk across Alexandra Square is to take in the sight of tens of cigarette butts. The library canopy, on a rainy day, is no less oppressive than the smoking area of a nightclub.

This is a modern, innovative, institution. The redevelopment of the Spine is testament to that. Yet, though we are full to the brim with bright minds, something has been left behind. Somehow, we have allowed ourselves to exist for 50 years without even questioning the issue.

What about drinking culture? I hear you cry. What about the prevalence of bars on campus? Yes, indeed. Though I concede that peer pressure and drinking culture are quite alive, I must insist that, well, smoking is not drinking. One’s pint does not affect one’s neighbour. Smoking does.

It is this that I implore the Spine Project to consider. I do not consent to being subjected to the pestilent smoke blown around between lectures, and neither do thousands of others. A bottle-neck along the spine, in the opinion of this column, constitutes a public space. The University has a responsibility to make this known.

In the vibrant images designed to imitate the future walkway, there is not a soul who is smoking. It is not an image that the University wishes to cultivate, and quite rightly too. As such, measures should be put in place to ensure that students are not subjected to smoke on this congested corner of our campus.

Leonie Robertshaw
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