Going up in smoke

Dealing with the social side-effects of smoking

More Canadian smokers are smoking alone as many addicts give in to social pressures to quit.
Image by: Harrison Smith
More Canadian smokers are smoking alone as many addicts give in to social pressures to quit.

The major concern in many smokers’ minds—other than their latest nicotine craving—is probably wrestling with the option of quitting. Since 2006’s Smoke-Free Ontario Act, smoking is banned in all public buildings across the province.

Each year there are fewer who will join in for a smoke outside in the designated smoking areas. Although 28 per cent of Canadians smoked in 1999, that number has been decreasing steadily: in 2006 it reached 19 per cent.

Public attitudes towards smoking have largely contributed to the demise of smoking as a common social activity.

Dasha Ianovskaia, ArtSci ’10, said as a smoker she feels those pressures.

“Right now, because smoking is frowned upon I feel more pressure to quit,” she said.

Coming to Canada from Belarus, Ianovskaia said she found Canadian culture to be less accepting of smokers compared to other parts of the world.

“It’s a cultural norm to start smoking [in Belarus] so people don’t feel bad about it,” she said.

Ianovskaia said she isn’t bothered by other people’s attitudes towards smoking as long as they respect her right to make her own decision.

“With people that accept the fact [that I smoke], it doesn’t strain the relationship at all and they accept my autonomy. But some other people don’t accept it and it puts a strain on the relationship.” Cheyenne Sica, ArtSci ’10, has been trying to quit smoking for three weeks now and said she decided to quit because she realized her habit was becoming too much and she didn’t want to think of herself as a smoker.

“I thought, this is gross,” she said. “I didn’t want to be a smoker for the rest of my life.”

Sica said quitting smoking hasn’t been too difficult so far.

“It’s something I really don’t want in my life anymore,” she said.

Sica said social pressures had no effect on her personal reasons for kicking the habit. She said she appreciates public campaigns to discourage smoking.

“I think it’s good that they are doing it,” she said.

Fifty years ago, Sica said, people were encouraged to smoke. Today people have to leave bars to have a cigarette, but she’s not offended by this change in attitudes.

“It is an inconvenience, but it makes sense.”

Over the years, Kingston has taken significant action to discourage tobacco use in the community.

Kingston’s smoking bylaw prohibiting smoking in all public space—including restaurants, bars, billiard halls, bingo halls, bowling alleys and outdoor patios—was passed on May 1, 2003, beating Toronto, Calgary, London and the province of Quebec to the punch.

Dave McWilliam, manager of the tobacco program at Kingston, Frontenac and Lennox & Addington (KFL&A) Public Health, can attest to the early days of Kingston’s smoke-free mission. He said Kingston preceded the province by 15 years in passing its first smoking bylaw, which required restaurants to make designated smoking areas.

“It wasn’t a huge thing,” McWilliam said. “But it was a beginning. At the same time we had Public Health going into schools.” McWilliam said by 2003 Kingston had fully embraced the idea of a ban on smoking in public places.

“When our bylaw kicked in, quite honestly, it went in with little difficulty. The community was ready.”

Shortly after the bylaw was passed in Kingston, Queen’s began to debate the idea of a campus-wide smoking ban.

In February of 2004, the University launched an online survey asking students and staff if they were in favour of banning smoking on the entire Queen’s campus. The majority were opposed. Today, smoking is still permitted on sidewalks and in designated smoking areas on campus.

McWilliam said he believes banning smoking on campus would benefit the Queen’s community.

“It sends a very positive message to everybody that this is very unhealthy, which is important for the leaders of Canada,” he said.

“It’s good for our health, it’s good for our image and it’s good for incoming students.” McWilliam said the smoking bans introduced in the past five years are central to motivating smokers to quit successfully.

“Unquestionably, with the bans coming into place, the impact on smoking is enormous,” he said. “Tobacco is not around, so it’s easier to quit.”

As the number of smokers continue to decrease, smoking will become more uncommon, McWilliam predicted.

“Once we get around to 10 per cent or lower, at that point it will become unusual to see a smoker. And at that point you will see major change.”

Dan Langham, director of Queen’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety said the University isn’t considering a smoking ban at this time.

“If there are specific issues that come up … the Department of Environmental Health and Safety will look at addressing those.”

Vincent Sacco, Queen’s sociology professor, said smoking has undergone a complete cultural turnaround.

“I think the interesting thing is how fast it happened,” he said.

“Smoking went from something sleek and elegant people did to being deplorable.”

This perception of smokers, according to Sacco, comes from the way we have socially constructed smokers as a problem.

“The anti-smoking lobby has been very powerful,” Sacco said. “It cast smokers as the villain.”

The dangers of second-hand smoke was the lynchpin in casting smokers in this villainous role, Sacco said.

“We construct them as a problem because of the way they victimize the rest of us,” he said. “If we believed smokers were only hurting themselves … none of this would be going on.”

Sacco said smoking has become a problem in the same way drinking became regarded as a problem during prohibition because it was hurting families and productivity.

He said society has less compassion and sympathy for smokers than those who are addicted to other substances.

“If you really believe someone’s using an addictive substance that is harming them, it’s odd that our reaction is to alienate them,” he said.

But Sacco said addiction to cigarettes isn’t viewed as an illness.

“It’s looked at as a sign of character weakness—a moral failing.”

Now, Sacco said, many smokers are embarrassed to admit their habit.

“It’s a stigma by virtue of the fact that people are free to tell you your clothes stink, you have to go outside of their house,” he said.

But Sacco said there’s another side to the moral equation. He said it seems strange to call companies immoral for making money off of people’s addictions when the government makes tax money off of cigarettes, as well.

“We stigmatize people from a habit that is legal and we get a significant tax revenue from it.”

—With files from Jill Buchner

All final editorial decisions are made by the Editor(s)-in-Chief and/or the Managing Editor. Authors should not be contacted, targeted, or harassed under any circumstances. If you have any grievances with this article, please direct your comments to journal_editors@ams.queensu.ca.

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