Saturday 17 June 2023

1986: Secondhand Smoke

I try to be an easygoing person, but sometimes I get to the point where I have had enough and feel like I have to do something, even though it meant ruffling some feathers.  I reached that point, one morning during the second week in January, 1986, when I walked into our Forestry office.  As soon as I had gotten through the door that morning, I was confronted with the stale odor of cigarette smoke that saturated the space.

I think what brought me to that point of finally complaining was the lingering memory an incident that happened when I was out snowshoeing on a crisp, sunny, cold, winter’s day in the mountains of the Upper Goat River, helping a crew searching for Mountain Pine Beetles.  Mid-morning, needing a rest from tramping through the deep snow, I decided to stop for a snack.  I settled down on the snowy mountain slope, looking out through the trees toward the pristine forested peaks on the other side of the valley.   I unzipped the back of my cruising vest and dug out an apple that I had remembered putting there weeks before.

  The apple still looked okay, but as I moved it up toward my mouth, the apple got within range of my nose, I let out an “Ugh!”

It reeked of cigarette smoke. It must have picked up the smell during the time my cruising vest hung in the office.  It made me think; if an inanimate apple, inside a cruising vest for a week, can pick up all that cigarette smoke, what is happening to my lungs as I breathe in all that office air all day long?

First thing that did that morning after smelling the smoke-saturated office air, was to pen a letter to Management stating the dangers of second-hand smoke and how it was endangering the health of all of the Forestry employees who were being forced to breathe it all day long in our office.  Surprisingly, my letter got some results.

Two days later Management called a staff meeting to discuss smoking in the office and as one might have expected, the meeting got to be quite tense at times.  Smokers, of course, enjoyed sitting at their desk, leisurely fingering their cigarettes and puffing away on their fags, but there were others in the office that felt the same as me.  After some heated discussions, a compromise was finally reached:  Smoking would only be allowed in the Staff Room, and non-smokers could take their coffee break before the smokers took theirs.

I knew I would be making some enemies with my letter (and did) but I felt strongly that it was grossly unfair that the health of all the non-smokers should be jeopardized by those who chose to smoke.   Of course, the compromise meant that cigarette smoke was not totally eliminated in the office, but it was a first step, and the air quality in the office did greatly improve. 

For decades now, smoking is banned inside all public buildings, but that was certainly not the case back then.   My letter in 1986, which did upset a lot of my co-workers, was the first shot in the war against second hand smoke in buildings around here, and certainly things were moving in that direction throughout Canada.  Later, smoking would be totally banned inside our office, forcing the smokers to go outside, even in below zero temperatures, if they wanted to take a drag on their cigarettes.  

    Below is a cartoon that I drew at the time.

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