December 29th, 2010

Smoking Responsibly

The fresh air of hiking in the Pyrénée during the summer can lead to some random ideas. Julia, our good friend Anne and I went hiking last August for four great days. During one of the many conversations that occur during uninterrupted days of long talks, Anne and I made a pact to create awareness posters and an ash tray for the smokers around our building at the University of Luxembourg. Anne and I work in the same building. Our campus is a non-smoking area but this has little effect and no enforcement. Ash trays are located only at the entrances to the campus – there are none on campus. This leads to many smokers upon finishing their last drag dropping their cigarette butts on the ground or into storm drains by building door ways. Besides the obvious ugliness of dozens of cigarette butts littered on the ground there are also environmental impacts. The filters hold back much of the toxic chemicals from being inhaled and stay in the filter. As this filter dissolves and breaks down the chemicals typically end up flowing into the storm/rain water piping system which usually flows into nearby streams. These contaminants have obvious impacts on the health of flora and fauna downstream.

The main aim of our project was to get smokers putting their cigarette butts in our home-made ash tray while providing information about the impacts of dropping filters on the ground. After some field work consisting of looking for high densities of cigarette butts we decided on a potential location and design. Our original design used sheet metal but upon discovery of a broken IKEA lamp we selected for a simpler design.

While we meant to do educational posters as well I came across an image I could transform for activist purposes. I posted one of these posters on the window close to the ash tray but a month later it was torn down.

At some point in history the balance shifted from smoking being a bothersome addiction best satisfied away from others to a right that non-smokers must cope with. Legislation and government campaigns have certainly helped over the last 20 years to reduce smoking and the areas that it is allowed. Society has largely accepted these changes but socially and individually few are willing to push smokers to being more conscious of their frankly unpleasant and smelly habit. Somehow farting is seen as rude or more disturbing than smoking. The latter will get rarely any comment. Smoking has established a sinister grip on societal norms like banks on our governments. Smoking is perhaps more accepted than driving a hybrid vehicle. Asking someone to stop smoking or smoke away from the doorway is returned with scorn. Smoking is an institution.

In Vancouver the most typical response to a disrespectful smoker is a glare. Smokers may be blissfully unaware of others people’s working olfactory systems. Clearly the smell is hardest for them to notice as they are perpetually engulfed in it. Perhaps smokers just need a friendly reminder of some guidelines.

Responsible smoker’s guidelines:

  • Smoke away from windows and doorways
  • Place cigarette butts in a garbage
  • Do not smoke while accompanying a non-smoker or recent quitter
  • Do not smoke directly before a meeting or lecture where you must be in close proximity to others
  • Do not smoke in a friend’s house or car by holding your arm out the window. It does not work

In some respects it is easier to approach a stranger and ask them to stop smoking than it is a friend. Actually that strongly depends on the stranger. Confronting a friend’s behaviour is extremely tough – just ask Neville Longbottom.

Here is our ash tray. Due to snow it’s hard to get an idea for it. You can clearly see the lamp pointing up. The great feature is that the lamp is removable so you can hold it while smoking or take it to the trash for emptying. I tried to empty it after the picture below but it’s full of frozen cigarette butts. It’s well used so I guess that means it was a success.

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