It’s Not Really About Smoking…

…or how it’s bad for your health. It’s not about people opening their hearts and offering the gift of self for the betterment of others.

You will probably not like what I have to say here but please understand this is not really to convince you that you are wrong about something and that I, therefore, am right. It is, rather, to get something off my chest. You have your own mind.

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Just two days ago the University campus at which my office is located implemented the latest phase in its “anti-smokers” policy (my term—it refers to itself as an anti-smoking policy; I differ). This has been playing out for decades: first no smoking in class, then no smoking indoors, next no smoking in proximity to the buildings and now, finally, a complete ban on smoking anywhere on the extensive campus. Those who wish to smoke will have to leave campus to do so.

I’m not at-ease with this latest round but it’s not because of the smoking.

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Here’s an imaginary conversation I have had with the members of whatever committee made this decision.

Me: I’m not a smoker but I’m not happy about this smoking ban.

Member Number One: Those People are out there ruining their health and we need to stop this.

Me: But we have an excellent fitness infrastructure here. Wouldn’t it be a better investment if instead of acting negatively (banning smoking) we instead promoted healthy living by doing a better job of getting more people to use it? I don’t see you over at the field house very often. Never, actually…

Member Number Two: Those People are sicker because of smoking and it’s my taxes that are paying for their extra health care. I’m not having any more of it!

Me: Is that a bag of chips you’re eating? I guess we will need to ban foods that lead to type II diabetes and heart disease next. Get off my campus while you eat that junk.

Member Number Three: I don’t want the secondhand smoke created by Those People.

Me: The actual damage done to you by breathing in secondhand smoke outdoors is negligible. I noticed you just had a barbecued hamburger for lunch. The smoke from your ‘cue (which is thousands of time more intense) didn’t seem to bother you much. Oh, and about your backyard fire pit—smoke-free is it?

Member Number Four: It’s bad for the environment.

Me: Tobacco smoke is significantly less a polluter than are cow farts. Do we need to ban those too? Oh, yeah, your pickup (you don’t car pool) has a Hemi V8 in it, right? Can you please disable four of the cylinders—they’re bad for the environment.

Member Number Five: Those People are supposed to be allowed fifteen minute breaks but with all their smoking it’s more like 20-35 minutes. Think of all that lost productivity that WE have to make up for.

Me: And you figure that making them walk all the way to their car and then driving off-campus for a puff will make that better? Tell me, where, exactly did you get your Ph.D.? I think it needs t be rescinded. Ummmm…is that Facebook I see open on your computer?

Member Number Six: We told Those People they could smoke outside blue lines we had painted by the entrances yet Those People kept on smoking by the doors anyway. If they can’t obey that rule then that’s it—we’re banning it altogether.

Me: I’ve been on campus here now for 21 years and I’ve never once been choked up with smoke like you seem to be suggesting. In fact since you had those cute, sassy lines painted on I’ve never seen a single person smoking inside one and the only smoke I’ve detected has been blown over by the wind; the smokers were stood way out there trying to hide away and shivering in the wind and rain at the time–not by the door.

Member Number Six: (seems to be in touch with is really going on here) That’s not what we’re hearing. We have reports of many people violating the line and, besides, we’re the majority so…there.

Me: This is a place of learning; we rely on data. I have seen none that supports what you are saying. And yes, I suppose, to you, might makes right.

End of conversation.

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This is not about the smoking. And, while I see this as an ‘Anti Smokers’ campaign, not an ‘Anti-Smoking’ campaign, I re-state that it’s not about that at all.

Let me be clear: I do not approve of smoking. I am not a smoker and neither, thankfully, are any of the members of my immediate and extended family. The research is clear. It is very bad for your health. It is an expensive habit that ruins lives, families and, yeah, annoys those who do not participate. The whole ‘Anti-Smoking/Smokers/Whatever’ thing is not what got my goat.

What, then?

Think back on the bit that involved Imaginary Member Number Six. It was clear that while the members tried to put forward rational arguments they were not interested in hearing any reasoned response. The committee was on a roll, convinced that (A) it was totally in the right and (B) that overwhelming public support was behind it. It did not need anything else. It was justified and was bound and determined to let its momentum crush “Those People.”

Those People.” Not individuals, no, just a nameless, faceless mob that needs to be eliminated.

That’s wrong.

Yes, I know you think I am going way too far; that I’m backing the wrong cause; that this is one of those times when this hive/herd mind thing should be left to do some good.

No. Just plain no.

We live in an advanced democracy. A wonderful, complicated, messy and generally rancorous melee of individuals, each with her/his own story.

And every voice counts.

Mobs of people, no matter what the cause, cannot be left to make decisions for all of us. All of the voices need to be heard but one voice is left out. That can’t be allowed. We have gone too far so it’s time to back this thing up and take another good hard look, this time with all of the voices present and listened to.

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About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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21 Responses to It’s Not Really About Smoking…

  1. Great post! I get your point and agree with it. This “case study” is illustrative of what is often happening. Mobs won’t listen to rational arguments or look at all the facts objectively. They have already made up their minds backed up by the selection of data they made – and their emotions.

    • Despite what many think, groups of people do not tend towards creativity and open-ended thinking. They subconsciously seek agreement; consensus. Create a group that does not include representation from those affected by the decision then the outcome will not include their needs at all. I believe that’s the case here.

  2. *round of applause* This is what I’ve been saying for ages. That is a very fair, very clear post and I agree wholeheartedly.

  3. We are becoming a society where the big boys make all our basic decisions and yes maybe a bag of chips is next!

    • I agree that’s the case now. I am somewhat unsure it was ever otherwise, however, I do harken back to a time when, at least, we had the courage to stand up every now and again against that type of decision-making. What surprises me about this case is that there has been no angry response. I’m not a smoker, as I have emphasized, but I am fairly certain that if this affected me directly I would be actively working to have the decision rescinded and the discussion around the policy started anew.

  4. jennypellett says:

    Hmm, an uninformed or pig-headed mob is a dangerous beast. Sounds like our SLT. Completely agree with your standpoint – but SIX imaginary members? I was considered weird when announced used to have one imaginary friend: you may want to reconsider… 🙂

    • Jenny, you have no idea of how weird I can be when the situation warrants. Just ask my friends from my university residence days.:-)
      Besides isn’t it true that with friends, “the more the merrier?”
      Oh, and here’s the real reason since you sort of asked. The original draft had this as a one on one but it was playing out a bit too much like Galileo’s Paradox for my comfort level (the one between Salviati and Simplicio where Galileo showed how it’s logically inconsistent for heavier objects to fall faster). I do try to be as original as possible. 🙂

  5. I was going to start my reply by saying something like, “I’m surprised to hear his this sort of big-business-decision-making occurring on an academic campus.” But then I realized that I have seen this sort of decision making go on too and that my sentence would be more appropriately written, “I’m not surprised to hear of this sort of big-business-decision-making going on on an academic campus.” You and I both know that higher education is now about making money and not necessarily about doing the right thing. The decision was a back-door strategy to get certain folks to stop certain behaviors … and someone believe that that, in the long run, will save the big guys some money. Simple. Doing the right thing isn’t always that which will turn the highest profit. Also … although committee work and committee decisions very often frustrate me, I think that in this particular case a committee decision, after extensive review, would have been better, for everyone. Sorry for the turn of events. D

    • To respond to this…and to extend on my reply to Tiny Lessons, besides groups tending toward a consensus that does not offend anyone present I should also point out that the outcome generally has three characteristics:
      1-the aforementioned middle-ground that does not really offend anyone present.
      2-the distinct possibility that the outcome COULD negatively affect those not represented at the table and since the committee does not necessarily feel that it is answerable to that “outside” group then there may be no consideration of them. This, I believe to be the case here.
      3-(perhaps the most important thing of all) the well known phenomenon of group polarization. That’s what happens when groups achieve consensus and, in time, become more and more extremist about it. That, precisely, is what is happening here and it is not a good thing.
      See here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Group_polarization

  6. elkement says:

    Great – subversive 😉 – post!
    I am and never have been a smoker (not even tried a single time), but I agree. If smokers don’t pester non-smokers I don’t see a good reason for banning them in this way.
    Very often I have read that smokers raise public expenditures because of expensive cancer therapies etc. However, I have stumbled upon a convincing calculation that proved that it is rather the very healthy people (non-smoking, not drinking, exercising regularly) who cause the highest costs simply because they become very old.
    I am not saying that I scrutinized either argument – but I just think that often the counter-intuitive arguments are true. Politicians and administrators tend to agree with fashionable arguments that seem “obvious”, but they don’t check numbers and they don’t think of a society as a complicated, interconnected system – that cannot be “modeled” that easily, applying simple logics (“A” will cause “B”).

  7. Johnny says:

    Am an ex-smoker. Many years ago, when I returned home from university I noticed my (70ish) neighbour out and about, sawing and chopping firewood. I pitched in and helped for a while and then stopped for a smoke. Hearing he was recently hospitalized for some ailment, I was hesitant but did offer and give him a cigarette. We sat, chatted, laughed, and shared old stories in the shade for a few minutes as we calmly took a break from working in the sun.

    When I shared my concerns about him smoking, he told me that he had a conversation with his doctor. “Something that helps you stop, take a break, sit down, relax for a minute or so, think, and discuss things, can’t be all bad. The doctor agreed with me.”

    I have childhood memories of him taking a break in the fields (and/or gardens), rolling a smoke, and smiling as he leaned on his scythe with tribes of us neighbourhood kids around; some playing about, some raking/turning hay, and all awaiting the all-important horse drawn hayride across the field, across the road, across another field, to the back barn.

    I certainly am not promoting smoking tobacco, as I figure modern tobacco is a too highly addictive commercially developed hybrid plant strain. But, perhaps, people need to stop, sit down, relax, think, and discuss things for a bit, a little more often. Especially, perhaps, those so quick to limit the freedoms of others… in a heroic effort to extend their lives..

    Richard passed on over a decade ago, at 95 years of age, after suffering from Alzeimer’s for well over a decade… alone … in a senior’s home … in another province. That smoke break is a good memory. Thank you for that, Richard… and Maurice.. Have a great day.

  8. seeker says:

    Morris, I like the way you think and rationalize. Those members reminds me of the future “Nazi” who are “holier than thou”. I wonder if these members are physically fit, full mental faculty, with not a single dirt on their face? Do they drive a car. You know what a car does for Mother Earth. All the pollutants that is odorless and is a killer as well. I can go on, but I think you did an excellent rationalization.

    • Sometimes people make it just about ‘winning’ and forget the cause for which they are fighting. As I see it the causes should be (a) health, yes, no argument, but also (b) respect for all points of view, regardless of whether you agree.

  9. Pingback: This Ping is for you! | theseeker

    • A very interesting point of view. I never knew there was any organized push-back. In the end, people need to recognize that this is an advanced democracy and all issues, no matter how divisive, need to be handled in a civil (pun intended) manner. Ganging up, ramming laws through, and then closing discussion solves no problems in the long run.

      • lordsid says:

        These people have been active for more than a decade.They’re not all smokers either.(maybe a third are non-smokers-but that’s a fairly old stat) Nor are they “pro-smoking” & they come from every “political persuasion”.At least one group is led by a non-smoker. There are other groups in every country that I can think of atm.I would have thought that you (& others) would remember “My Choice” from the media,especially when most bans were merely “proposed”.They had about 55,000 members,which is many times the total of all the so-called “citizen” groups advocating bans.Some of their “groups” have consisted of one person.Their highest (claimed) is about 200-300,which reminds me of others that seem to have more people on their boards than they have as members. Another that I’ve just thought of has 17 people.(not much of a “popular” uprising as they like to depict themselves as)

        I agree on your “democracy” statement.However the anti-smokers wouldn’t.They want everything their way.When in public in any free society,everyone has to interact with everyone else.It’s called tolerance.They apparently desire to be intolerant.

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