Sometimes, I pity the poor smokers. Always relegated to an area outside and off property, their exile gives me pause from time to time.
It isn’t because I sympathize with the act of smoking. It’s more out of some notion of second-hand embarrassment and discomfort that comes with seeing smokers huddled outside doorways and under overhangs in the cold. If you smoke, jacket on and hood up are more or less a mandatory routine whenever you need a cigarette. Come winter, in the wind and the snow, it’s a bit of a pitiless ordeal.
Worse still for smokers are the endless smoking bans. Memorial University recently put up its own, banning all smoking anytime, anywhere on campus, and one has to wonder where student smokers are supposed to smoke at all nowadays, given the sheer expanse of Memorial’s grounds.
The ban is a rule made to be broken, methinks, but gives nonetheless an apt depiction of the shrinking accommodations afforded current smokers in the name of promoting greater public health.
Of course, as a non-smoker, I appreciate being able to go to school or go out to eat without having cigarette smoke blown in my face. But for those hooked, I’ll willingly concede there’s sometimes good reason for sympathy for the poor smokers shivering outside in the cold.
Most times however, I couldn’t be bothered.
It’s the times I see a guy throw a cigarette butt on the ground and squish it into the pavement with his shoe. Or the times when I’m driving at night and a spark flies my way as whatever remnants of a cigarette the woman in front of me was sucking on hit the pavement after she rolls down her window to give it a chuck.
In those instances, which unfortunately account for the majority of my encounters with smokers, rather than feel sympathy for the way they’re inconvenienced, I lose patience with the level of their arrogance.
Sure, a cigarette butt may seem insignificant, but once it’s flicked away, out of sight and out of mind, it is a permanent addition to whatever sidewalk or roadway it now populates. When that butt hits the asphalt, it’s there for good.
Unlike the bag of chips tossed out the window, or the coffee cup thrown over the shoulder, which carry a slight but real chance of being picked up one day, the chances of a cigarette butt finally getting trashed are infinitely small. Invariably, they will remain and they will accumulate, covering entrances to buildings, public trails and street corners. Such is the case in St. John’s, as it is in any Canadian city.
An argument could be made that people don’t always smoke in areas that offer ashtrays or places for cigarette disposal. But consider the amount of cigarette butts littering the ground around outdoor ashtrays — instruments designed and installed specifically for cigarette disposal — at any number of public places in St. John’s alone, and that argument quickly falls apart.
We’re not dealing with a lack of infrastructure here. What we’re faced with is a reckless disregard for others and a deep lack of respect for property and members of the public.
Obviously, all smokers aren’t to blame, but tossing cigarettes on the ground once finished with them is an act that pervades smoking culture. That much is undeniable, and evidenced by the sheer amount of cigarette butts we trod on every day.
As such, I offer this simple challenge to smokers: when faced with what to do with that cigarette once you’re done with it, take the high road and dispose of it properly.
It’ll be the easiest thing you’ve ever done. And we’ll all be the better for it.
Unless you do, while that cigarette may leave your attention the second it departs your fingers, it’ll remain for the rest of us to deal with forever.
Patrick Butler, who’s from Conception Bay South, is enrolled in the journalism program at Carleton University. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.