Second-hand smoke and kidnapper mountaineers

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Mountain climbing is dangerous, yet people choose to be mountain climbers. So imagine for a moment that they force others to partake in their dangerous activity. At least once a week, people who do not wish to climb mountains are dragged, kicking and screaming, by mountain climbers to the nearest rock face and forced to ascend it. The mountain climbing kidnappers are criminals, clearly. Now pretend that the adverse effects of mountain climbing were not immediate (ie falling to your death), but drawn out. For example, a pebble may fall on your head every time you mountain climb, the cumulative effect of which happens to be hazardous. Also, the mountain climbers kidnap only inadvertently. This is an increasingly odd picture, but analogous to the relationship between smokers and non-smokers: the majority of people who inhale second hand smoke do so against their will, with the knowledge that it is hazardous to their health.

University policy prohibits smoking in any building owned or managed by the University. However, the problem lies not within university buildings, but in front of and in between them. The University’s prohibition extends to all enclosed and substantially enclosed spaces. Therein lies the problem: smokers campus-wide violate this prohibition. I would stress here that the purpose of this article is not to demonise smokers, but rather to highlight the University’s failure to implement their smoking policy: a failure which exculpates smokers.

Now, a substantially enclosed space is one where any openings are less than half of the total area of the wall space. So, a space in which a person is permitted to smoke has openings greater than half of the total area of the wall space. This concept is tricky to grasp. Consider standing inside a box – a box to which University policy applies. You could smoke in that box, without violating the prohibition, if it was missing two or more of its sides (excluding the one on which you stand and the one above your head), but not if it was missing one or no sides. The University may just turn a blind eye regardless.

This failure is understandable, if not forgivable. Labelling spaces as substantially enclosed or otherwise is difficult and depends ultimately upon how a space is partitioned. With the aforementioned box it seemed perfectly clear, but real spaces are complex and reluctant to fall neatly into one category or another. The spine is an excellent example, and in particular the portion between George Fox and Alex Square. Frequently will a non-smoker become wedged behind a smoker whilst making this journey, and then either inhale second hand smoke with each breath, hold their breath for an indefinite amount of time, or bravely attempt an overtaking manoeuvre. Currently, smoking is prohibited at three points along this portion of the spine, but this does little to help the wedged non-smoker.

Now consider a uniform tunnel, cuboid in shape, twice as long as its entrances are wide. If the tunnel is split in half, then it consists of two cubes, neither of which is substantially enclosed. However, the tunnel as a whole is substantially enclosed as only a third of the total wall space is open. Absurdly, then, smoking is permitted in either half of the tunnel, but not the whole tunnel. Go figure. The plight of the wedged non-smoker is a symptom of this absurdity. So, it seems that the University’s smoking policy is more than difficult to implement. It is unimplementable.

Instead of considering enclosed-ness and where people cannot smoke, the University should consider populations and where people can smoke; smoking should be permitted in suitably populated spaces only. A suitably populated space consists of people who have expressed explicitly a desire, or at least an indifference, to inhaling second hand smoke. If the space is occupied by any other individual, if only for an instant, then smoking is prohibited. If such a policy were successfully implemented, then those who do not wish to inhale second hand smoke would never again find themselves holding their breath. To return to the opening analogy, the mountain climbers would busy themselves with their hazardous activity but force no one else to join them, which is precisely the real-life state of affairs.

In closing, Cancer Research UK estimates that, every year, second-hand smoke kills over 12,000 people in the UK.

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