Toxic air is no fair

As an asthmatic, I must say that I am very excited about the prospect of Portland Parks and Portland State banning smoking.

I highly doubt that it will be enforced in a meaningful way if the Clean Air Corridor is any indication (“Please stop, this is a non-smoking area.”), but it does give me hope that I might be able to go across the Park Blocks without having to shroud my nose and mouth from tobacco smoke.

I’ve read what others have had to say about seeing the ban as an attack on personal freedom and a method of pushing smokers out of the university, and I have to say that neither of these are compelling arguments.

First of all, since when does one’s right to engage in a recreational activity trump my right to breathing air that is not tainted with secondhand smoke—a toxic air contaminant as determined by the California Air Resources Board? Oh. It doesn’t.

Secondly, if not being able to smoke in a particular area dissuades one from going to said area, then it seems like we could have an epidemic of smokers only able to consume their product on property they own or in places designated for smoking, such as cigar bars—in just the same way responsible adults consume alcohol! What a tragedy that would be.

I apologize if I seem unsympathetic or like I am persecuting smokers, because that is not at all what I mean. If you are a smoker and make the conscious, adult choice to use a product scientifically shown to cause permanent harm to your body, then go for it. Smoke until you can’t anymore, by all means, but do it in a way that won’t harm other people. If someone can smell your smoke at all, it’s not just some innocuous stinky stink that is unpleasant à la breaking wind. When I smell your smoke you are forcing me to smoke with you, and frankly, that shouldn’t be your decision.

We should just erect some sort of smoking shelter to accommodate everyone as best we can, right? False. Wrong. I don’t think so. Why should any of my student fee money go toward the enablement of a group to pursue a leisure activity on school property that has exactly no health benefit to the student population? Furthermore, anyone walking past that smoking area is still at risk for any and all smoking-related conditions. People like me with asthma could risk an asthma attack, which even in minor cases can cause shortness of breath and coughing fits, and in very severe cases can even cause death if a rescue inhaler isn’t at hand.

So, then, what should we do? Should we cast the smokers out of the promised land of higher education, condemning them to the wilds of an existence? No. Here is what I propose. If you are a smoker and would be affected negatively by a smoking ban (enforced or not), then it sounds like it’s time for you to get together with other smokers and raise some money for my brand new invention—the filtered, ventilated and enclosed public outdoor smoking shelter.

Imagine a place outside and shielded from the rain in which you could smoke to your heart’s content (and your ventricles’ malcontent). It would be a place that filtered the smoke inside so that the only thing that would come out would be clean air. And furthermore, when you stepped out of this smoking shelter there wouldn’t be billows of toxic smoke that any passerby could inhale. This would also provide peace of mind for smokers worried about the effects of their hobby on other people.

But the bans affect all tobacco products and vaping, too! Surely any reasonable person concerned about public health would be put at ease about smokeless tobacco and vaping! While the harmful effects of smokeless tobacco would seem to be localized to the person consuming it, the spit byproduct of chewing tobacco is considered a biological hazard and is harmful to our water and soil. Vaping may be the most seemingly innocuous of all, yet it can passively deliver nicotine to people who are not actively choosing to partake of it, and that’s not alright. Vapists can feel free to join the smokers in the shelter; this will expand the potential fundraising base for the outdoor filtered smoke shelter.

A smoking shelter of this sort shouldn’t be too hard of a sell if the money is raised independently of the limited resources of PSU and Portland Parks, but you would have to take it up with them. If you’re having trouble coming up with backers for this sort of project, then you might ask a pittance from the coffers of big tobacco. I hear they have lots of money to throw around, and if they are allowed to smear their logo feces all over the outside of the shelter, I am sure they could find some enthusiasm to shell out a few bucks (especially if it keeps people smoking). This would, however, take much more effort than mere whining about it being unfair that you don’t get to do what you want, where you want, when you want. Things are tough all around.

I am sorry that the privilege of smoking in public has been misinterpreted as an inalienable right by smokers for so long. It’s not a right; it is an indulgence that the nonsmoking population has allowed for quite long enough. It’s about time PSU joined the other Oregon public universities and put public health above personal privilege.
Hey, if we started enforcing the smoking policies and created a fund from the accumulated fines we would have enough for the filtered smoking shelter in no time at all, but I am sure that the smoking community would much rather contribute voluntarily so that nasty things like fines wouldn’t need to be a reality.