Smoking in Public

There’s an issue that’s been swirling around my head (literally and figuratively) since moving back to London. And I’m willing to bet that it’s not just an issue for me, but for many of the other 84% of folks living in the UK who don’t smoke either.

I’m talking about smoking in public.

First, I want to make it clear that this isn’t a post about someone’s choice to start or continue smoking. Sure, it’s not the healthiest thing a person can do, but you don’t owe me — or anyone else — a life of healthy choices. I mean, I’m literally drinking liquid sugar (a.k.a hot chocolate) as I type this, so I can’t exactly judge.

Second, this isn’t an attempt to get smokers to stop smoking. I have friends who smoke. They know the statistics and the risks. Sure, I’d love it if no one smoked anymore, but it’s not my call.

Finally, this is an etiquette website. The whole point is to help people be less of a jerk in their actions. If you’re a smoker who doesn’t care about being a jerk when you smoke, then this post isn’t for you! But for those who smoke and do care, this is for you.

Walking while smoking
You’re late for an appointment. You just got off the bus (where you obviously can’t light up), and you only have ten minutes until your next appointment. It also, coincidentally, takes ten minutes to walk there. Perfect time to grab a quick cigarette, right?

Please don’t. Or at least, please think about your surroundings before doing so. If it’s a busy street, or a busy time of day, you’re exposing a whole bunch of people to chemicals that they didn’t ask to be exposed to. And the nature of walking means that anyone going in your direction will either have to jog past you if they’re able, or be stuck with your smoke in their face until their path diverges from yours, and anyone walking towards you will end up walking directly through your smoke cloud. That’s kind of a jerk move.

Also, as an aside, people who walk while smoking will often (out of necessity, I assume) flick some ash along the way. I’ve been on the receiving end of such ash more than once, including a hot bit that flew directly into my eye. That shit HURT. And yes, it’s possible that I will be injured by other items while out in public — say, by an oblivious person walking directly into me — but the existence of other boorish actions doesn’t excuse all of them.

Smoking in parks and at the beach
It’s a beautiful day in London. The grass is finally dry, there’s not a cloud in sight, and it’s the weekend! Time to lay out the blanket and breathe in some clean air.

Until someone lights up a cigarette 15 feet away. Then the lovely day turns into an obstacle course wherein non-smokers attempt to dodge any group that includes smokers. Of course, people who smoke don’t smoke all the time, so it’s nearly impossible to pick a spot that guarantees freedom from something that causes me to cough like I myself have been smoking three packs a day for 20 years.

In the UK a couple of years ago they explored banning smoking anywhere that children play. I mean, cool, but it’s not just children who should have access to cleaner air. It’s great to start with kids, but eventually I’d love it if we cared about the air that everyone inhales.

And before you point out that there will be other smells (and sounds) that are unpleasant and might put a damper on a day at the park or beach, I know. But I’m talking about smoking right now, not whether forcing other people to listen to your choice of music at full volume is acceptable (it’s not).

Smoking right at the door
In the US, smoking laws vary, but in places where there are smoking bans, there are often rules about the distance one must be from an entrance before lighting up. That doesn’t appear to be the case in the UK, which seems a bit ridiculous. Having to pass through a cloud of smoke every time one leaves or enters a business is not cool, so smokers, I’d ask that you move well away from all building entrances before lighting up.

Smoking at the bus stop
You’ve got what is essentially a captive audience here, so unless there’s a way to position yourself so your smoke blows away from everyone at the stop, please reconsider lighting up.

A word on vaping
Congratulations to those who have shifted from cigarettes to vaping! Unfortunately, many people who vape seem to think that the stuff they are exhaling is harmless, but it’s not. It’s quite nasty, and seems to create a much larger cloud than traditional smoking. Sure, it doesn’t smell the same as cigarettes, but I still have no interest in walking through a cloud of peppermint-tinged nicotine and propylene glycol. So please follow the same considerations suggested above, even though you aren’t smoking cigarettes anymore.

So … where should people smoke?
Banning smoking in the workplace and all enclosed public spaces was a great move from a public health perspective. I’ve also at times hoped for a ban of smoking in all public spaces, but one unfortunate consequence of banning smoking in public outright is that it can be engineered as a way to harass people living homeless, which is definitely not cool. Smokers also often have lower incomes, so anti-smoking laws and regulations (in places like public housing for example) may disproportionately impact already marginalized populations. I’m not interested in that, either, so instead I’m just going to hope that smokers simply look around and consider the affect they have on the people around them.

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