Huffs and puffs

Hi, I’m your friendly neighborhood smoker. You’ve probably seen me. I stand on the side of the quad, making sure not to block any paths and carefully maintaining a reasonable distance between the nearest buildings and myself. Then I smoke my cigarette. I prefer to do this in peace, and I generally succeed. I know it’s a bad habit; that’s why I try to be conscientious. It’s my choice, and I neither need nor want to involve anybody else. I always feel bad discarding my cigarette butt on the ground, but after trying many other methods this seems to be the wisest choice. Smokers’ posts would be an excellent addition to campus, but B&G has made it clear that they’re not an option outside of student residences. All of this leads up to my main complaint: I try to be a respectful, conscientious smoker, so please don’t be rude to me unless I am blatantly rude to you.

My complaints may not be universal, and I’m not going to try to make the argument that all smokers on campus are thoughtful or polite; many aren’t. However, most of the smokers that I know personally are. Despite this, almost all of us have had multiple, frustrating encounters with the non-smoking masses. It can be as simple as disapproving glares and scowls from (frequently distant) passers-by. The next level includes what appears to be a slight cough accompanying the disapproving glare. In some bizarre cases, this subtle clearing of a throat becomes a sudden onset of whooping cough, which may be accompanied by the victim gesturing erratically and angrily to his companions. Does my smoking really cause such strange illnesses in others? I admit that these particular complaints are fairly minor. They’re simply an annoyance, and I have given my fair share of disapproving glares for other offenses, although I have yet to contract whooping cough. However, the lack of tolerance and respect conveyed through these actions can be very frustrating. If I am clearly trying to give you space, please do the same for me – preferably in a non-judgmental way.

This issue of space frequently becomes a problem, and unfortunately the problem originates from both smokers and non-smokers. More than once, people have approached me while I’m smoking peacefully on my own, invaded my personal space and proceeded to explain that I am killing them. No, I’m not. And if you really do believe that, it might be a wiser course of action to move away from the smoker, instead of getting closer to the cause of your apparently imminent demise. The space issue becomes less cut and dried in other situations. If I am smoking while I walk to class, I make a concerted effort not to blow smoke in anybody’s face. This is usually a success. If I am smoking and want to sit on a bench for a moment to do some reading or make a phone call, I make sure that I choose an empty bench and once again blow smoke away from those who pass by. Even then, I have seen people sitting over 20 feet away, upwind, get up and leave with a scowl. In this case, I am unintentionally infringing upon somebody’s (possibly excessive) space, and he or she is dealing with it in a slightly immature manner.

Since we do live on a small campus of both smokers and non-smokers, this issue of sharing space will always be a problem. Fortunately, there are ways to lessen the severity of this issue, the most important of which is polite communication. Perhaps the distant bench-sitter had a cold or asthma or some terrible smoking-related childhood trauma. If that were the case, she could have decided to leave but in a more polite manner or even let me know what the problem was (while standing at a safe distance, of course) in the hopes that I would move or put out my cigarette. I’m not perfect, so more than once I have smoked too close to people, or too near an open window, and I’ve had pleasant encounters with people who politely let me know that I am bothering them. However, the need for clear communication and manners doesn’t lie just with non-smokers; smokers can also try to alleviate frustrations. If I am walking with somebody I don’t know well, I’ll ask if they mind before I light a cigarette. If they say that they would rather not be around smoke, I solve the problem by not smoking. Communication and honesty in cases such as these prevent everyone involved from being miserable.

In general, just keep in mind that I’m not perfect, and neither are you. I won’t apologize for smoking, but I’ll do my part to be as polite and thoughtful as I can when I do smoke. Judgmental glares and coughs don’t help anyone, so please, just be polite and allow me to indulge in my favorite vice, and politely let me know if there is a problem. I’ll be over in my corner of the quad, trying not to be a problem.