Sunday, December 4, 2011

Effects of smoking on me (the longer version) (Sept. 18, 2008)

Current mood: satisfied

N.B.: From the same late-1980s collection of my writings where I found "Smokers Please Read", here is a little longer explanation of where I was coming from on the smoking issue. I used this essay to lobby for the strong smoking controls Westinghouse put in place.

The four distinct types of tobacco odors I describe below still provide a useful basis for discussing the issue. For example, the second type is, for me at least, what is most troublesome outdoors.


Effects of Tobacco Smoke on Me, a Non-Smoker

    I am a non-smoker who can be made physically ill by tobacco smoke.  Many will say they know what it's like for people like me, but they haven't stood in my shoes.  Not all smoke bothers me, but some can affect me severely.  I find it necessary to clarify what kinds of smoke there are, which bother me and to what extent.

    First, there are direct fumes, such as when sitting or standing right next to a lit cigarette.  This means the fumes are visible when they reach my nose.  This smoke is irritating, but not as much as other types.

    Second, there are nearby fumes, such as when I am located within about five to 20 feet of the cigarette.  Individual cigarettes are usually distinguishable from one another, if more than one is going at a time.  Nearby fumes are strong, visible, and though well blended with clean air, will not disperse altogether for several minutes.  This usually sets off my gag reflex, and a desire to escape.

    Third, there is a buildup of residual fumes.  Proximity to a lit cigarette becomes less relevant at this point, being secondary to the size of the general area, its ventilation, and the number of cigarettes smoked in it in relation to time.  The air is visibly grey or brownish, if the light is right.  This type of smoke can hang in the air long after smokers leave.  More on this later.

    Fourth is the leftover odor.  This is what the non-smoker gets to take home: odors in clothing and hair, on curtains, on other smokers after they've finished one, from ashtrays, and from the butts themselves.  There is no color to this.  It is completely invisible except for a haze that builds up on windows.  These odors are virtually permanent until washed off.  Stated another way, they affect the non-smoker until they are removed.  Any of the first three types give me this, too.

    All four affect me.  Any one of the four, independent of any other, breaks my concentration.  Any combination will make me feel queasy.  Any significant amount, in combination, duration or quantity, is virtually guaranteed to make me nauseous. This process is accelerated if I am hungry, stressed, or already ill.

    I suffer the most severely from the third, the residual fumes.  This one shows up in meeting rooms when one or two (or more) people are smoking.  I turn green in hour-long meetings with smokers, even if they sit at the other end of the room, knowing that the smoke bothers me.  What they don't realize is that it isn't the cigarette they're smoking at the moment, it's the sum total of all the cigarettes smoked by everyone in attendance.  One cigarette in a 10x30 room, a full ten minutes after being smoked, will still make me feel ill.  The typical scenario that incapacitates me is a series of cigarettes by a single smoker 75 feet away in an auditorium.  The smoker's typical reaction to this is to laugh it off as a joke. This is why I am so fed up with worksite smoking!

    Due to the Westinghouse Energy Center's ventilation system, residual fumes do not have much of a chance to accumulate in the cubicle areas.  Meeting rooms are a different story altogether.  I advocate that Westinghouse adopt a policy of banning smoking altogether in meeting rooms.  Even if smoking is OK by the attendees of a meeting in a given room, the attendees of a later meeting in the same room may find those residual fumes highly annoying or offensive.  It's the same air.  Only by installing and enforcing a total meeting-room smoking ban will people such as myself feel comfortable working in the building.


bus15237 said...

Comments on the original 2008 post:

Natasha Rene'e
it amazes me to read this and remember that there was a time when smoking was allowed in buildings. i don't think that in my lifetime i've ever seen an office that didn't have a "no smoking allowed" sign posted.

my old campus was a smoke free campus (after much debate and argument) and i really loved being able to walk in and out of buildings without having to hold my breath. i wish my current campus was the same way.

i think it's great that you were able to make a change. and i think it's great that change keeps happening. perhaps eventually smoking will be inconvenient enough for people to just quit all together.

Stuart Strickland
At a bus stop, you'd be getting Type I (adjacent) and Type II (nearby) fumes, and maybe a little of Type IV (built-up stink from butts ground into the sidewalk, and so forth). I don't have asthma, but I've been around asthmatics who went into a wheezing fit because of the slightest whiff of someone's smoke, so, yeah, I can appreciate your sensitivity.

Back at Westinghouse, the biggest effect I had on the in-development smoking policy was to convince the H.R. lady in charge of coming up with it to make it "sign free", i.e., "If it doesn't say you can, then you can't." That was revolutionary for 1988 for a 2,100-person building. Now it's the status quo in many places.

jon menen said...
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