Smoke-Free Zones: An American Innovation?

Written by M. Glantz. Posted in All Fragilecologies

Published on October 09, 2009 with No Comments

Fragilecologies Archives
29 August 1997

pen2Times have changed. In Boulder now you hear people say, “Do you mind if I smoke?” Boulder as a town is fairly unique in this regard. In a way, it’s a non-smoker’s haven. How unique and innovative we are (despite jokes to the contrary). The rest of the country, let alone the rest of the world, is not like Boulder. Smokers are everywhere.

In a recent conversation with the former head of the National Weather Service (NWS), I mentioned how Boulder had become a sort of smoke-free zone. I told him how restaurants and other buildings had banned smoking because of the concern people have about second-hand smoke. He informed me that the NWS was way ahead of its time when the Director of the Weather Bureau in 1900 banned smoking inside its building. The following is the notice that he issued:

“So many instances wherein the excessive use of cigarettes has caused a material deterioration in the mental and physical condition of employees have come to the attention of the Chief of the Weather Bureau that he feels constrained to warn the members of the service against indulgence in this injurious habit. The smoking of cigarettes in the offices of the Weather Bureau is hereby prohibited. Officials in charge of stations will rigidly enforce this order, and will also include in their semiannual confidential reports information as to those of their assistants who smoke cigarettes outside of office hours.”

Chief, U.S. Weather Bureau
U.S. Department of Agriculture
Weather Bureau, Washington, D.C.
March 21, 1900
Instructions No. 51.

So, here we are almost 100 years later, and Boulder is following the same path and reasoning as was witnessed at the Weather Bureau at the turn of the century.

When I was growing up in the 1950s in Providence, Rhode Island, the culture of smoking was strong. In fact, it was a pervasive aspect of our culture. There were ads on TV, in the newspapers, in magazines, and on billboards encouraging us to smoke. Smoking would make us sexy, look cool, ride horses better, swim better (which was appealing to me because I couldn’t swim), etc.

I remember visiting Times Square in New York City with my parents and having them point out the Camel cigarette billboard. The man on the billboard had his mouth wide open, and out came circles of smoke! Cool, really cool.

I guess the strongest pressure on me to smoke as a teenager probably came from friends and strangers. Often, I’d be asked to take a cigarette. To resist was not cool; it would set me apart from my friends. It was as if I had to apologize for not lighting up. Can you imagine? It was almost as if I had to say to them, “Do you mind if I don’t smoke?”

I don’t smoke, although I flirted with cigarettes when I was an undergraduate in college. My parents smoked numerous packs a day. And the tobacco companies in the 1950s and 1960s were in an apparent full-court press in their advertising to get people to smoke their products. But, for whatever reason, I managed to avoid their traps.

Why is that other people around the globe do not seem to share this awareness or concern?

I’ve come to realize just how removed from the rest of the world Boulder is when it comes to smoking. This fact was brought home to me during a recent trip to Israel. There, just about everyone smokes, although there is a campaign to get people (young people especially) to avoid the habit, with TV ads that state that “It’s cool not to smoke.” However, in Israeli taxis, restaurants, and even in no-smoking areas people smoke. In one taxi there was a no-smoking sign in the back seat where the passengers sit, while up front the taxi driver was smoking like a chimney.

When my wife and I returned to the US from our trip to Tel Aviv, we had a long layover in the Frankfurt (Germany) Airport before we could connect with our flight back to the US. When we checked in for our Lufthansa flight, we discovered that we had been put in the smoking section. When we mentioned it to the check-in person, we were told that the flight had been greatly oversold and that we were indeed lucky to get seats at all. So, we were forced to sit in the midst of smokers while second-hand smoke swirled around us. This reminded me of the time a few years ago, on a different Lufthansa flight, when my side of the aisle was designated as non-smoking and the other side as smoking. Apparently, the concept of a non-smoking section is something that Europeans fail to grasp.

As soon as we arrived at the Frankfurt Airport, we were surrounded by smoke. Smokers immediately lit up cigarettes on the bus from our connecting flight to the main terminal. Inside the terminal, many more people were smoking.

With five hours to wait for our connecting flight, we sank gratefully into two of the few available seats. Not more than two minutes after having found a place to sit, a woman nearby, with two young kids in tow, started to light up. (In fact, as I wrote this she had moved on to her second cigarette.)

At that point we gave up our search for smoke-free air, let alone clean air. It became pretty obvious that there was no way we would find it at the Frankfurt Airport.

So, we finally returned to Denver and then Boulder, grateful for the smoke-free environment at DIA, on the limo to home, and at our home. We also felt renewed sympathy for the flight attendants who were forced to breathe second-hand smoke for so many years. Having to breathe it for a week in foreign countries was more than enough for us!

Oh, by the way, some of my best friends still smoke.

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