Posted tagged ‘smoking ban’

Academics up in smoke

May 14, 2013

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.

The fire is going out?

November 27, 2010

A few weeks ago I visited someone in their home, and as I entered I was met by what, to me, was an almost overpowering smell of cigarette smoke. It is a very rare thing nowadays to find anyone smoking indoors, so encountering it now is rather striking. My friend is a chain smoker, and at home he continues to light up constantly.

Some years ago that would not have been unusual at all. When I was a boy both my parents smoked, my father about 40 a day (and occasional pipes and cigars), my mother maybe 20. I am sure that our house smelled strongly of cigarette smoke. As, probably, did most public buildings that I might have entered. I have never been a smoker, but for years I was a gifted passive smoker.

Now, I gather that the number of smokers is going down rapidly, and of course we have smoking bans in public spaces. So can smoking die out completely? I suspect that even if it could, it won’t happen for some time. But social expectations and requirements have changed, and so the various bans that have been introduced in a number of countries have been accepted and have started to change behaviour. This is so even in France (which banned smoking in most public spaces in 2007), where it was always thought that French smokers would refuse to obey anti-smoking laws. I remember a delegation of French public officials visiting Dublin in 2005 and absolutely refusing to believe that a smoking ban was either just or enforceable.

And what does one say to the person who occasionally will suggest that smoking is a civil liberty, and that it is no part of the government’s role to make people stop? Smoking can impose significant costs on society, and so the taxpayer has an interest in ensuring there is decreased consumption. And as for me, I am delighted that whenever I enter s bar or a hotel my eyes do not begin to water, as they once did.

PS. But whatever happened to pipes? I used to love the smell of pipe smoke…