Up in smoke: A crusade in search of a crusader

Column by John Warren

In my first year working at a newspaper, I earned $12,000 and 2,000 hours of second-hand smoke.

Imagine if someone lit up at the office today. Not only are people not allowed to smoke in the workplace — or many other enclosed spaces — but open-air bans are also gaining momentum. In the U.S., there are more than 1,500 smoke-free college campuses. Smoking is illegal in more than 800 parks and 150 beaches in the U.S. It’s illegal in Times Square. New Orleans City Council has led the charge in municipal bans, passing a law that affects most outdoor areas, including stadiums, athletic fields, parks and zoos.

We’ve come a long way, baby, indeed.

But in Chautauqua, this bastion of lefty right-mindedness, we’re still huffing because people are still puffing.

You can’t smoke in Institution-owned buildings. But there is no ban on public smoking on the grounds, said John Shedd, Chautauqua’s director of operations and administrator of architectural and land use regulations. Because municipal government doesn’t have jurisdiction over the Institution, it would be within Chautauqua’s purview to enact a ban.

In the past, Shedd said a public smoking ban has been discussed, both by the administration and by the Chautauqua Property Owners Association. But the move didn’t gain momentum, and there is currently no smoking-ban movement afoot.

Hugh Butler, past president of the CPOA, said the all-volunteer organization is all about causes. A smoking ban has been broached before, he confirmed, but no one snatched the baton and ran with it.

“The organization hasn’t taken this up. Someone has to want it bad enough to start a campaign,” he said.

But he gets it. When I spoke to Butler on Wednesday, he and some friends had just been bothered by cigarette smoke on Bestor Plaza.

“Then I have to remind myself that it’s legal,” he said.

Chautauqua and cigarette smoke. It feels incongruous. I feel that way when I have to hurry past a cluster of smokers leaning over the brick wall outside the Amphitheater. It feels like a personal affront when my kids inhale smoke after someone lights up in line.

When Seattle enacted its smoking ban on 465 city parks, its parks board correctly stated there really is no safe distance from second-hand smoke, particularly for kids. The health statistics are omnipresent and compelling.

Since 1964, 2.5 million nonsmokers have died from exposure to second-hand smoke, according to Center for Disease Control and Prevention statistics. Second-hand smoke has immediate ill effects on the heart and blood vessels of folks who have never smoked. Only 15 percent of smoke gets inhaled by the smoker; the remaining 85 percent is the smoker’s gift to the rest of us. There are more than 4,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke, 40 of them cancerous. I could go on, but you have Google, too.

It’s Chautauqua, though, where consideration grazes freely. Smoking isn’t rampant.

“There’s not one now?” was Vicki Sheppard’s response, asked whether she favors a ban.

Her friend Lorraine Walter said she chases down butt-flickers in her golf cart.  But she doesn’t much care as long as no one’s littering, or if she doesn’t have to breathe it.

But, as Sheppard said, “Sometimes smokers are not very courteous.”

If this were a personal ad, it would read: Worthy crusade seeks crusader.

Anyone? Anyone?

Do you think Chautauqua should ban smoking? Weigh in on Twitter @johndavidwarren or by email at johndavidwarren@aol.com.

John Warren is a writing coach and columnist for The Chautauquan Daily.