Academics up in smoke

I should start this post by declaring that I have never been a smoker. When in my youth all around me were smoking, I somehow avoided it. I tried it of course, it just didn’t do anything for me.

It is increasingly hard to remind ourselves how all-pervasive smoking once was. In my late teens in the cinema I could hardly ever see the screen, the smoke was so overpowering. In my local butcher’s shop in provincial Ireland the meat was routinely carved and arranged by the butcher with a cigarette hanging from his mouth and, occasionally, ash falling on the food. More alarmingly, the local petrol pump attendant filled up your tank while puffing on a Rothmans King Size.

When I started my academic career, smoking was also all around me. Lecturers regularly smoked in their offices, and with their office doors open the smoke would blow down the corridors. So when I first became a Head of Department, I was presented with a problem. A student came to me to complain about one of my colleagues who insisted on smoking during tutorials. The student suffered from asthma, and when she complained, the lecturer suggested she sit by the window, which he then opened. In January. He continued smoking. It was not an easy situation to resolve.

Some 25 years later it is all very different, and some universities have now banned smoking from their campuses altogether, indoors and outdoors. Last month, one American pressure group declared that in the United States 1,159 campuses now permit no smoking at all. In the US and elsewhere, those universities that do still allow smoking tend to restrict it to areas well away from buildings and regular pathways (see the smoking policy of Warwick University, or that of Exeter University, or that of Glasgow University).

In my own university our smoking policy has recently come up for consideration, with the question being asked in particular whether we should also ban it outright. In considering this, I have wondered whether we would do so as a way of protecting non-smokers and the general public, and perhaps of bringing to an end the unpleasant littering of certain areas with cigarette butts; or whether we would be seeking to persuade, maybe even compel, smokers to desist from the habit for the good of their own health.

Of course smoking is not quite the same as other forms of potential self-harm such as over-eating. Bystanders are affected by smokers, with potential risks to their health. But then again, that may be true, if in different ways, of other bad habits such as alcohol abuse: should drinking also be banned? Is there an appropriate dimension in this issue for liberal, or maybe libertarian, principles?

This non-smoker would be quite happy if the practice died out completely. But even so, I am not wholly sure that while cigarettes and tobacco are legal that it is our mission to stop people from using them. In short, I am not sure what the correct approach should be.

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11 Comments on “Academics up in smoke”

  1. V.H Says:

    I think you can readily ban it from inside buildings. I think you can ban it from the apron of buildings, 50ft of any door or entrance, arch what-have-you, only not as easily. I don’t think you should even attempt to ban in the wider campus, the open air. The writ will be seen as foolish.
    You can add this requirement that anyone delivering or doing any work to the T’s&C’s of the contract and refuse to accept any delivery from people that are smoking.
    And while you’re at it ban those electronic fags too. There are people out there that are profoundly affected by nicotine. If the smoker wants and will probably need the top up during the day they can get the patches, gums or under tongue sprays.
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m as libertarian as the next fellow, but your liberties end at the tip of my nose.

  2. LD Says:

    This is a really difficult one – but as a non smoker i would ban it totally even from the grounds. At present smokers stand outside the doors and smoke leaving mess and stink everywhere and when we move to a new Campus with lovely new buildings this will continue – so better to ban from grounds totally unless you can find a place as far from anyone where they can go.

    But then we have the dual problems of them disappearing every so often for a cigarette and then returning stinking of cigratte smoke.

    In this lovely new build we are told there are no microwaves in the kitchens for staff in case there are strong smells that pervade the new offices – but smokers are left to bring back their smells with no stop on that. I would far rather smell a strong curry than smoke or stale smoke.

    We are also part of a Faculty of Health and Social care – surely part of our social care and responsibility is to become a smoke free University.

    • Lynne McLaughaln Says:

      Really! we are now getting to the point where the smell from people who smoke is not to be tolerated. Where do we stop, what if someone wears too much perfume for your liking or a scent that you can’t stand. Worse still what about garlic eaters and people with BO. Will we be saying next that those things are not to be tolerated.

      • MM Says:

        The potential of “third hand smoke” the smell of smoking is not only unpleasant for non-smokers but may pose a health risk not only to children but to others http://www.nhs.uk/news/2009/01January/Pages/Thirdhandsmoke.aspx

        Non smokers of which I am one are likely to find this an uncomfortable and possible harmful environment in which to work.

        If the “smell” of perfume, garlic of BO is offensive something can be done about it i.e. a gentle word – can we really say the same about “second or third hand smoke”?

  3. Anna Notaro Says:

    Ok today’s topic is about smoking and related policies, and yes it is always rhetorically appropriate to go for an eye catching blog post title, but ‘Academics up in smoke’ isn’it a wee bit melodramatic in this case? :-)

  4. V. S. Says:

    It is an interesting line between protecting freedoms and protecting employees. However the issue of how far the non-smoker should be protected has arisen as we look at relocating our acaemic staff as part of estate changes. I am not the only colleague to have received complaints from colleagues that do not want to be seated next to a smoker because they are sensitive to the smell of smoke.

    One of my colleagues from north America suggested that there should be a scent free policy (I have had one objection to being seated next to a colleague due to their perfume) – and I wonder then would we have rules regarding washing, what toileteries are allowable etc.

    Lets agree to tolerate our differencies.

  5. Al Says:

    By the time the PC police have this one sorted out, we will be more knowledgeable about the fumes coming from plastics and flame retardants etc in the modern workplace.
    Might be then that smoking could prevent something then….

  6. Colin Mair Says:

    In a previous life I worked in Financial Services in Edinburgh in the 1990s when an exclusion zone no-smoking policy was introduced in our, and of course, in our competitor Organisations. The outcome was that the smokers from Scottish Life crossed the road and smoked in the doorway of Standard Life and the smokers from Standard Life used the Scottish Life doorway. A wonderful example of the unexpected outcomes of target setting.

  7. Dan Says:

    You could do what my institution does! Ban it from buildings and also ban it also from main entrance of our largest building; and there put up stern letters banning it on govt. advice, and put up posters there too banning it; and instal a speaker with an electronic voice droning “this is a non-smoking area…”. Then ignore the hordes of students and staff puffing away merrily while standing beneath the letter, posters and the speaker voice droning…etc.

  8. cormac Says:

    In our college, it is now very noticeable that it is mainly the cleaning ladies who smoke, in a few pens far from the lecture rooms. Some first-years smoke, but it has definitely lost that ‘cool’ edge, not sure when this happened.
    I think there are lessons to be learnt from the way the tobacco industry insisted for years that smoking did no harm to users, then that it was a matter of choice, then that it did no harm to others, in that order. A perfect example of how difficult it is to separate the public interest from big business.
    Did you know that Margaret Thatcher took a directorship with BA tobacco shortly on retiring from politics? it amazes me that journalists never comment on this in the contect of a ‘conviction politician’


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