Where there’s smoke, there’s more smoke

Smoking at the office is about as wise and popular as defending bullfighting at an animal rights convention. Yet it wasn’t always taboo.

Once upon a time, I kept a large glass of water on my desk. Not for drinking. It came in handy because once or twice a month, my wastebasket caught fire because the pipe ashes I dumped into it were still hot. Or a colleague would flip a butt (cigarette) into his, hers or my basket.

Stuff happened. But back in the day, folks were more laid back. How laid back, you ask?

So laid back that our newspaper’s highly-respected, well-educated medical reporter was a chain smoker. When somebody asked him about it, he said he wasn’t worried, because a cure for cancer was right around the corner. He died of emphysema.


One time, the metro (city) editor walked past after I had created a mini-forest fire. He was puffing a cheap cigar. When he saw the blaze, his primordial firefighting instincts kicked in. He actually put his foot in the wastebasket to stomp out the fire. Back then, no big deal. Today, big deal!

Today, we would probably both be fired. Or more likely I, as the junior, would have been sacked. He, as management, might have to attend smoking cessation classes. But we both would have been marked, professionally, for life.

That was then, this is now,.

Today, federal agencies are smoke-free, right? The National Institutes of Health has a sprawling complex just outside of D.C. that advertises the entire campus is smoke free. Like other places, right?


The immediate area outside many if not most federal agencies is still open to smokers. Which prompted this frustrated fed to write:

I’m begging you to PLEASE do a column on smoking in federal buildings. I was reminded about the antiquated attitude about smoking after reading your column “Feds In Heat” on air conditioning in the good old days. We’re still in the “good old days” when it comes to smoking, although admittedly, not as bad as it was years ago.

Each morning I have to pass through a cloud of smoke to enter the Brookhaven IRS campus in Holtsville, N.Y. Atriums that connect parts of each building are clouded with smoke and impossible to pass through, in addition to the hundreds of cigarette butts littering the ground. Approximately two years ago, building management prohibited smoking within a certain amount of feet from an entrance. NTEU fought it, and management caved.

Here in Suffolk County, as well as in New York City, smoking is prohibited in parks, beaches, restaurants, bars and on the grounds of city/state buildings. It seems that if you want a free environment to smoke, just get a job at the IRS.

I’m not even going to mention the loss of productivity in these times of hiring freezes and doing more with less. Just look outside and you can see the same employees (including Operation Managers) outside with a butt hanging out of their mouth hour after hour.

I’m not saying everyone has to quit, but as someone who struggled 20 years ago to quit, and still struggle to this day, if I’m going to breathe in smoke it’s going to be from my own cigarette and not anyone else’s.

One last thing — there was actually a fire here the other day. Someone threw their lit butt onto the dried up grass and started a fire!”

So are outside smokers in your agency making life miserable for non-smokers, or are smokers being unfairly, and increasingly, isolated?


By Jack Moore

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