I’m a smoker. I tell you this because I know how defensive we can be towards people who complain about our habit.With that said, I want to address an issue our campus has struggled with for at least the last few years: the discomfort that smoking causes to non-smokers on campus.
Several years ago, a student in one of my writing courses did some informal research. She sat on a bench outside Main Hall for two hours and counted the number of smokers who walked by her. She also counted the number of smokers who walked within a foot or two of an ashtray (if you recall, they were almost as common as the new receptacles) and still dropped their butts on the ground. The results were, not to put too fine a point on it, appalling. Fewer than 20% of the smokers she observed walked the one extra foot to use an ashtray.
If you were here during the 2008-9 school year, you remember that our governing body (PASSHE) banned smoking on all fourteen state system campuses. The ban remained in force for that entire school year, but was rescinded in June 2009 for legal reasons. Put simply, a court decided that PASSHE couldn’t unilaterally impose a change in workplace rules without negotiating the change with the unions on campus first.
Some students, staff, and faculty have been hoping, ever since, to see the ban reinstituted. Although that hasn’t happened, the WCU Safety Committee has spent the last year developing a policy to limit the exposure of non-smokers to second-hand smoke. In the last week or two, you may have noticed the installation of dozens of new cigarette receptacles on campus.
Those new receptacles are all over the place. Outside Main Hall, where I teach, there’s at least one at or near every door. There are several on the Quad. Finding one isn’t hard.
So my pleas to us smokers are:
If you were (or would have been, had you been here) angry about the smoking ban, consider yourself lucky that it’s no longer in force. Moreover, because smoking is clearly not welcomed by a large majority of the university community, make some effort to be considerate. Don’t stand near the doors of buildings, blowing smoke either into foot traffic or the Air Intake systems. Try to be considerate of people around you. Use the receptacles, or at least the trash cans, instead of throwing butts on the ground.
As my student who researched this issue years ago concluded, it’s easy to demonize smokers and smoking when we’re inconsiderate slobs. Unless you want PASSHE, with more explicit support from non-smokers, to reinstitute the ban, be careful with your smoke, your lit cigarettes, and your butts.
Seth Kahn is the Associate Professor of English at West Chester University. He can be reached at SKahn@wcupa.edu