Tuesday, June 29, 2010

When will smoking become a hazy memory at RRC?

When Smokey sings, I see smoke rings.

The air outside of hospitals is thick with smoke and irony.

Because that's where the doctors, nurses, and orderlies congregate to catch up, talk about their hard day, and...have a smoke!

I can see the ad campaign now: "After a long, hard day of operating on people's diseased lungs, four out of five doctors prefer Camel cigarettes to unwind!"

Of course, we hold doctors to a higher health standard than others, because they're the ones who tell us to take care of ourselves and scold us when we don't.

So common is this cognitive dissonance - the dentist with rotten teeth, the drug counselor with a meth habit, the firefighter who doesn't notice his pants are on fire - we have an expression of moral indignation for it:
"Physician, heal thyself!"
Where there's smoke...there's learning

So, let's say that I teach advertising and PR (which tells us that image is king) at a downtown, progressive college heralded for being at the forefront of technology and creativity, but to get inside you must pass through a wall of smoke at both, major entrances...

While it may not be as hypocritical as a doctor with a two-pack-a-day habit, it always strikes me as an odd juxtaposition: all of the architectural beauty and state-of-the-art technology that taxpayers' money can buy behind concrete barrels of sand and butts.

In yesterday's blog post (below), I railed against smoking near a rail - or whatever surrounds your favorite restaurant patio - mostly for reasons of health and the right to enjoy fresh air, but I think that smoking outside "an institute of higher learning" raises questions of health and image.

More to the point: can you be a "progressive" college and still allow smoking to take place at your two, main entry points?

Of course, if my thesis is right, and image is everything, the college doesn't have to ban smoking; it just needs to make sure that all of the smokers out front always use a pipe, cigarette holder, or humidor, for that classy Sherlock Holmes, Audrey Hepburn, Arnie vibe:

Maybe not.

RRC's smoking policy

If you go to the Red River College website and search "smoking policy," you learn some startling facts:
  • "College Administration has received numerous complaints regarding exposure to smoke upon entering and exiting the buildings as there are often many people smoking in front of the entrances/exits."
  • "The assembly of people outside the exits/entrances increases the College’s operating costs given that litter is not being properly disposed of and heat is lost while doors are held open."
  • "The present situation poses a serious safety concern, primarily as a fire hazard. The College has had two fires started from the cigarette butts that have not been properly disposed of outside of the entrances/exits."
Complaints? Costs? Two fires?!

So, then, it's kind of lame that Red River College's 2003 solution was to invite students and staff to three brainstorming sessions, which resulted in the formation of 20(!) designated smoking areas at Notre Dame Campus.

Considering that I had just one student who identified herself as a smoker in last semester's first-year class (she's very nice, so don't judge her!), 20 smoking areas seems like a lot of square footage.

The college's online smoking policy doesn't include a plan for Princess Street Campus (though I have a hazy, smoke-filled memory of an email about it) and also suggests that a ban could happen...one day:
"We believe that every person has the right to clean air and a safe working environment while on campus. We will be monitoring the implementation of the policy. There is still a possibility of a complete ban of smoking on campus property should the College feel the designated areas program is not working."
It also turns out that Red River College offers smoking cessation support through its Health Centre, so you can get a edumacated and cessamacated at the same time. Who knew?!

The best solution?

So, maybe the college's best bet is this (an awesome possibility for this year's first-year PR research assignment):
  1. Research the "smoking areas." I'll bet that frequency of use is down from '03.
  2. If I'm right, reduce the number of areas and rethink where the remaining ones should be. Think: far away from where non-smokers or passersby are likely to be.
  3. Target the people who still smoke there. Educate them about the college's smoking cessation program. Make it easy for them to enroll.
  4. Communicate that, in one year, there will be no more smoking on campus property.
Then, we'll all head over to the Health Sciences Centre to teach those doctors a thing or two...


  1. Thanks for this, Kenton.

    Indeed, the College is under no obligation to provide smoking areas of *any* sort.

    If anything, it has an educational, ethical, and moral obligation to provide a smoke-free facility that promotes and models healthy living. Compromise simply suggests ambivalence toward those obligations.

    And let's not forget about tobacco sales on campus. Perhaps that's the part of the equation where we start to "follow the money?"

  2. Great points Kenton. RRC could also ban the sale of tobacco on campus. This action has been taken by several colleges and universities in the US and Canada. It has also been enacted at the provincial level by Quebec, PEI and most recently Alberta.

  3. As a smoker I'm used to being reviled and vilified by self righteous non-smokers. Having said that I do agree that smoking is bad for our health and I will admit that smokers often create litter (myself included)and aren't always considerate of others when smoking.

    Unfortunately, cigarettes are still a LEGAL indulgence which smokers pay for of their own free will. I emphasize that cigarettes are a legal commodity because I hate when anyone discusses banning them. Banning cigarettes is akin to censorship and once you head down that road things can get rather dicey. What comes next?

    Another issue that always grates on me when it comes to smoking is how badly it is demonized. Cigarette companies can't advertise anywhere, they can't sponsor sports or the arts, they can only be held accountable in lawsuits for people's bullshit claims that they didn't know how bad smoking was. The real kicker of it is the fact that our good friend alcohol can advertise all they want. Hell! Beer companies sponsor motorsports all over the world yet you rarely hear any outrage at that association.

    Though widely accepted, alcohol cuts a far wider swath of death and destruction than smoking. Alcohol can lead to drunk driving, alcoholism, liver disease and other internal problems, physical or verbal abuse, violence... not to mention being an annoying douchebag to people around you who are sober. Has anyone ever come home after a night of hard smoking and beat their wife? Or killed someone in a car accident because they had a little too much nicotine? Didn't think so.

    I'm not trying to use this argument as a defense for smoking, I just hate the double standards. When all is said and done the real issue here is often one of etiquette. If smokers were more considerate of non smokers desire for fresh air I'm guessing that 9 out of 10 people wouldn't really care about their dirty habit. But that's just my opinion.

  4. Hey! Wade's got a point! Alcohol is more accepted than cigarettes! Let's get rid of the designated smoking areas and replace them with designated drinking areas!

  5. Why do you hate liberty?

    First they came for the smokers and I did not speak as I was not a smoker.

    Than they came for the one's eating delicious Tim Horton's doughnuts and I did not speak as I did not eat deep fried carbs.

    Than they came for the coffee drinkers and I did not speak as I drank tea.

    Than they came for me and there was noone to speak.

  6. Yeah- it's the shoemakers kids that run around with ripped shoes!! (I have yet to see a doctor smoking!)

  7. Oooooh, if there's one thing I hate it's liberty!

    I'm also not partial to truth, justice, or the American way.

  8. Wade:

    When used responsibly, certain types of alcohol (such as red wine)do have health benefits. It doesn't mean one should start drinking if they don't already. The key word is "responsibly". When used in excess, you get the problems of drinking and driving, liver problems, verbal and physical abuse, etc. It's the people who don't know how to drink in moderation that cause those problems.

    When it comes to advertising, I certainly don't think alcohol ads should be appealing to children. I saw a movie aimed at a teenage audience in theatres a number of months ago and saw an alcohol ad, and that bothered me. I, however, have no issue with alcohol advertising aimed at an adult audience.

    If I choose to enjoy a drink in a bar or on a patio, I'm not hurting anybody. My issue with tobacco is that second-hand smoke is harmful.

    I'd be in favour of a ban on smoking on school property. Most other schools in Manitoba have a ban on smoking on school property, why not Red River?

    Personally, I would feel that it would be appropriate for there to be some sort of law put in place keeping smokers from smoking near building entrances. I have no problem with walking past a smoker on a sidewalk, or even walking with someone who is smoking, but having to pass a group of 5 or 6 individuals when I'm trying to get indoors does sometimes make me feel a little sick.

  9. Not partial to truth, justice, or the American way?

    But...You're not bald enough to be Lex Luther!


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