To smoke, and not to smoke

This summer, a beautiful stone bench was removed from the Portland State Library’s porch. The bench was not removed for being dangerous nor for not fitting in with the décor.

This summer, a beautiful stone bench was removed from the Portland State Library’s porch. The bench was not removed for being dangerous nor for not fitting in with the décor. It hadn’t been broken, and it wasn’t disliked by anybody. But the bench had to go; according to the library, no matter what anyone did, they were unable to keep smokers from congregating at the bench and being a nuisance to others.

With regular complaints about the smokers from students, staff and faculty piling up, the library had no choice but to remove the bench.

It isn’t that PSU doesn’t have designated smoking areas—it’s that PSU has too few, and that the ones it does have are poorly marked and uninviting. Smokers do use these “smoking shelters,” but the lack of marked boundaries makes many of them not realize there are places they are not allowed to smoke. If PSU is to be fair to both smokers and nonsmokers, designated smoking and nonsmoking areas need to be clearly labeled.

Hung Mac, a junior studying Human Resource Management, is a smoker. After being informed that the area he had lit up in was a no-smoking area, he expressed surprise. “I didn’t know,” he said, even as he looked for the sign—located approximately at the level of his shins. “They should make it clearer. Maybe put up a big sign here.”

Mac isn’t the only one who has difficulty recognizing where he can and cannot smoke. As he spoke, two more smokers sat on a bench across from him clearly labeled “No Smoking.” When these two were informed that the bench was a no-smoking area, they shook their heads. “There’s a butt disposal right here,” one called over. And indeed there was—located right between two “no-smoking” areas.

It is this lack of clear boundaries that causes trouble. Campus Public Safety officers walking by people smoking in no-smoking areas do not enforce the rules there. If one person lights up outside a doorway, everyone thinks it is fine to smoke there, too. Despite PSU’s smoking policy, which asserts that “the rights of nonsmokers to a smoke-free environment will always take precedence over the desire of smokers to smoke in non-smoking areas,” little has been done to ensure smokers and nonsmokers have their own spaces.

Lauren Alexander, a junior majoring in liberal studies, believes that many of the rules are broken because PSU is a public area and a part of downtown Portland. A smoker herself, she appreciates the smoking shelters and tries to use them whenever she needs to smoke on campus. “I think people who smoke in no-smoking areas are disrespectful,” she said. A lack of enforcement seems to be the key problem, she thinks.

Mac, however, believes otherwise. He, along with many other smokers and nonsmokers surveyed, said PSU needs more designated smoking areas. Most students are only aware of one: the shelter between Cramer Hall and Smith Memorial Student Union, which is located at the end of a long chain of no-smoking benches and doorways. More designated smoking areas, students argue, would help cut down on the number of students smoking in areas in which they shouldn’t be.

Another suggestion widely offered by both smokers and nonsmokers is clearer designation of no-smoking areas. A single sign doesn’t cut it—it isn’t seen, or is vandalized and ignored. Instead, more encompassing boundaries need to be set. Lines on the ground, some students suggest, clearly stating where smoking is not allowed. Removal of butt disposals from no-smoking areas is also a common suggestion, and a reasonable one, as some students, like Mac and Alexander, try to smoke only in areas where a butt disposal is available.

The last measure is, of course, enforcement. Many smokers cited the reason they smoked in nonsmoking areas was simply because no one told them not to. If they were told they were in a nonsmoking area and asked to move, they said they would have no problem relocating. With greater enforcement, whether from CPSO or even just the student population, PSU could see a drastic reduction in the number of people who smoke in nonsmoking areas.

The removal of the library bench, while disappointing, could be a wakeup call for PSU. It represents the failure of the school’s current methods of accommodating smokers and nonsmokers alike. Change needs to happen soon, or we’ll be losing more than just a bench next time.

And no one, smoker or not, wants that. ?