This week, the PA Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect. It’s a statewide ban on smoking indoors (with a few exceptions that aren’t relevant to this post), a notion I fully support even as a smoker.
On Thursday, everybody on the WCU (and presumably the other 13 schools too) campus received an e-mail indicating that according to our governing body (the PASSHE Board of Governors), the law also precludes smoking anywhere on any campus.
Of course, as a smoker, I immediately bucked against this idea. Not that I favor secondhand-smoking people to death, but it seemed to me that engaging in a legal activity, outdoors shouldn’t be a problem. Other people get to do other potentially harmful things (eat meat, drive, etc), so why shouldn’t I? Moreover, it has also occurred to me that on rainy days, the ban creates unsafe working conditions for smokers. We already have to be outside our buildings, which is entirely reasonable, but now we also have to be out on the sidewalks away from our buildings, without any possibility of cover except umbrellas.
As I’ve thought more about it, I have mixed feelings about how hard I want to fight this. On the one hand, as one of the people who’s now responsible for contract enforcement (as Grievance Chair), I believe we have to make sure that at least the law says what PASSHE says it says. We can’t have them enforcing all kinds of regulations on us willy-nilly. Sure, this is a slippery slope argument, but those aren’t always wrong just because they sometimes are (pace, Kant). And I do think that the ban creates hazards for faculty who are otherwise engaging in legal activity.
On the other hand, I recognize that the large majority of the campus community favors the ban. I also recognize that if PASSHE’s interpretation of the law is correct, there’s not much we can do about it. That’s for the lawyers to argue out, at least for now.
In the meantime, I would make this plea to all smokers on PASSHE campuses. Comply with the ban for now. And furthermore, it’s a time that calls for (what shouldn’t be but is) extra care in terms of cultivating good will with our campuses. Don’t throw butts on the ground; extinguish them and put them in ashtrays. If you’re standing on a sidewalk where people are walking, try to blow smoke away from them. Smokers are more and more demonized in our culture, and anything we do to make that demonization easier makes our fight against the ban (this one and others on the horizon) that much harder. If we act like civilized human beings, we make our case much easier to support and sustain.