Smoking perimeters

With gas prices hovering around $3 per gallon and bus ticket prices rising several times a year, it stands to reason that TriMet fare inspectors must have better things to worry about than arbitrary smoking regulations.


In late September, TriMet announced a ban on smoking in all Portland-area bus shelters and many of the MAX stations around the city. This makes Portland one of the few cities in the country with smoking regulations at public transit stops. Violators of the policy could face exclusion from utilizing TriMet’s service or a $94 fine.


I’m a public transportation patron and non-smoker. I can see how people would complain about sharing the small bus kiosks with a smoker, especially if there’s a long wait.


The problem isn’t the ban on smoking but the implementation. A smoking ban at TriMet stops would undoubtedly have to devise a smoking perimeter close to the bus stop. At night, patrons huddle close together to be seen by the bus driver, which could ultimately result in a violation of the non-smoking policy.


Also, the ban would require more security to ensure compliance with the policy. Even though I am a law-abiding citizen, I get slightly uncomfortable around constant surveillance and security. For a courtesy issue such as smoking at a bus stop, providing and ultimately paying for extra TriMet security will be too expensive to enforce.


Another problem with the smoking ban is public knowledge of the rules. The TriMet kiosks have had polite no-smoking signs up for a long time without the enforcement, which will kick in Jan. 1.


When the ban went into place, I decided to do an experiment to see how successful the media blitz was. At 9 p.m. on Southeast Powell a week after the ban was implemented, I had my chance when an older woman sat down at a bench inside the shelter with a cigarette. I watched as she fumbled for matches and proceeded to smoke her cancer stick inside the small, non-smoking shelter. I didn’t feel any queasier or out-of-breath after she finished her cigarette, and more importantly I didn’t smell of smoke. Would 20 feet have made a difference?


However, bus stops are located on public streets, where smokers are allowed to tread. The day after the occurrence on Powell, I was waiting at a bus stop on Southwest Fifth Avenue and Montgomery . I stood outside of the shelter and was about 10 feet away from the nearest smoker. This time, as a result of wind flow, smoke blew directly into my face and caused momentary nausea.


Smoking inside the buses was banned in 1978. Supposedly, the current ban came to fruition as a result of numerous complaints from transit patrons.


PSU banned smoking in front of all buildings. However, smokers are allowed to light up 20 feet away and at specially marked benches, which are less than 20 feet from the door. There is no documentation that secondhand smoke contamination is reduced at certain distances. The location of the PSU smoking benches makes me think that, somehow, secondhand smoke is reduced if the cigarette or cigar enthusiast is sitting down. The 20-foot distinction makes me think that I will get lung cancer only if I am within 19 feet 11 inches from a smoker.


There is no debate that smoking is dangerous. Cigarette smoke contains hundreds of dangerous chemicals, including carbon monoxide, arsenic and formaldehyde. It is harmful to the environment and can cause birth defects if a woman smokes while she’s pregnant. It is well documented that smoking can cause lung cancer and can also cause cardiovascular and heart problems.


It’s definitely not a clean or healthy habit, and as a non-smoker, it’s not pleasant to be in a poorly circulated bar or restaurant full of smokers. Enforcing a ban on smoking on public streets is more difficult than a ban on an enclosed space, such as a bus or restaurant. The ban could prove to be a nuisance for both TriMet fare inspectors facing overtime and a problem for smokers who may simply be passing by a bus stop. The ban could also lead to complaints by bus patrons who smoke inside the non-smoking boundary at the bus stop because of misunderstood guidelines.


The ban on smoking at transit stops is good in theory, but it seems impossible to enforce. TriMet might consider providing extra security for drivers or running more buses at night and at more locations instead of passing a poorly designed mandate for public locations.