End of an era


Today our company instituted their new no smoking policy. That in itself isn’t something to be sad about. I’m not a smoker. Haven’t smoked in ages. And smoking has been prohibited in public buildings in California for so many years I can barely remember when it was still legal. But what that prohibition created was the all-too-common phenomenon of smokers huddling together right outside their place of business. I’m sure you’ve all had to pass through their cloud on your way into a building, right? As an asthmatic who is sensitive to cigarette smoke, I’ve always resented the clusters of cigarette smokers lost in their own smoky little world of carcinogens.

When my division moved to a new fancy campus a couple of years ago, the smokers were given their own little smoking section away from the building entrance. I laughed when I first saw it and quickly dubbed it the “Smokers’ Circle of Shame” (technically it was a semi-circle, but everyone got my point). Situated amidst the beautifully manicured lawn, right outside the windows of the cafeteria, was a dirt-covered area that was the smoker’s ghetto. Despite the ample open space on the campus, that the only place they could go to smoke. Being located right outside of the cafeteria, it was almost as if they were on display for us. And being that there isn’t much else on the campus that is entertaining, watching and identifying the cliques of smokers amused me.

Rarely was a smoker there by him or herself. Well, there was Al, but he always brought his work along as a companion. But otherwise, it was mostly groups of smokers. They seem to cluster according to nationality and gender. Often you find a group of Indian men (never women), which is not surprising as I would guesstimate that at least 30-40% of the employees and contractors are Indian. I never really noticed if it was the same guys every time, but when they were there, there was always at least 3 or 4 at a time. And then there were that one application team, mixed race, but native born Americans, that were always together, whether it was smoking, grabbing some coffee in the break room, or eating lunch.

But, the reigning queens of the Smokers’ Circle of Shame were the Russian women. They not only had the largest group of smokers, but they occupied the space for the most time. They are a very imposing group. Truth be told, they scare me. Obviously, they fear nothing, especially not being fired. “Verk? No, ve vill smoke and you geeve us paycheck, yes?” Nor do they fear the Fashion Police. It’s really difficult to describe their fashion sense. It’s somewhere between the Studio 54 and Nashville. I’m also guessing that the clothing sizes in Russian are a mere size or two different from ours as their clothes seem at least one size too small, and there is always a hint of flesh that is trying to burst free. But, the worst part is getting stuck in an elevator with them after one of their smoking breaks. Whether talking on their matching pink Razor phones or to each other in that small space, the heavy smell of smoke is overwhelming.

So, with the new company policy of no smoking ANYWHERE on company property, I wonder what will happen to the various smoking teams. Maybe some will decide to quit smoking. But I’m guessing most of them will probably be compliant and simply walk the 15 or so yards over to the field behind our parking lot. But, not the Russian women. I bet they’ll find a secret spot some place else on campus, steal some chairs from the cafeteria and carry on as before, because they’re bad ass like that. And I kinda admire them for it.


15 responses »

  1. Hi
    Just one thing,u say u walk through a cloud of smoke and it up sets you and i do under stand your health problem.What do you do in traffic were there is poison gas that you must breath?

  2. It all makes me hang my head in shame when I think back to what I was like as a smoker. I smoked from age 15 to age 33, completely shamelessly. And for about the first five years of my life as an advertising creative, I used to smoke in the office. One day my working partner gave up smoking and asked me to stop smoking in the office we shared. I told him that if didn’t like it, tough – he could go get himself a new copywriter. He stopped compaining and toed the line. It must have been sheer hell as I smoked about thirty a day. As I said, I hang my head in shame.

  3. This made me laugh. Especially the idea that the Russian women are going to prevail in spite of the new policy.

    We have a no smoking policy, too, at our company, and I’m surprised by what hard feelings it evokes. The nonsmokers can’t stand those clouds we all have to walk through, and the smokers do feel punished. I used to sit in a cube next to a self-imposed no-smoking czar, and I swear, this guy really got himself into trouble for yelling at errant smokers.

    I’m a non-smoker, but I would never go to the means he did to police smokers.

  4. ybonesy – I wonder if that guy was a previous smoker? The worst smoke police I’ve encountered were reformed smokers.

    Such a funny picture you’ve painted – and now that I think about it, we have those smoker cliques here too! There is a designated area which is supposed to be far enough away from potentially open windows to be OK. They are not as exposed as your group was. But if I do pass by that area, there is always more than one person for sure. Or, the single person there is talking on their cell phone while puffing away.

  5. A former co-worker of mine had an ashtray in corporate colors with the logo stamped into the little tin from about 12 years ago even though she wasn’t a smoker. She got it from her boss who was gonna throw it away when our company instituted a no smoking policy. She used it as a candy tray. When she left she threw it away and I just about cried because I always coveted it as my own candy tray.

    I used to really resent the smokers for taking so much time for smoke breaks and used to threaten to start smoking myself just so i could get an extra hour or so of screw off time during the day. Of course I was going to bring a bubble pipe and not really smoke tobacco. 🙂

  6. We have a designated smoking area, its behind the building next to the dumpster. Its not glamerous, it stinks sometimes, but I go out there with them on my breaks, and I enjoy the comraderie (I hope I spelled that right).

    In my profession there is a certain need, at some point in the day, to have a place to escape from the job itself and focus on a pleasure in life. I don’t go out to smoke, but I understand the need to do what they want to on their time.

    So I don’t defend an unhealthy habbit, and I dont comdemn them for poluting their designated little area, and to those Russians with a scary appearance who will prevail, under and cirmcumstances, I can only say one thing: I won’t get in the way.

  7. them rushin babes is smokin ~ dats awl eye gotta sey x ept when i get caught in noxyus fumin traffik dats when i sey “its time to light up!” or at least roll down the winder and start puffin n huffin btw eye dont smoke neither but i sure like to smolder

  8. Welcome Jurgenkahle – It’s a matter of choice. I know that when I get into a car or on city street or highway that I’ll be subjecting myself to all sorts of nasty fumes and emissions. Hell, I drive and I’m part of the problem myself. My problem with the smokers was simply that I had no choice but to pass through their smoke if I wanted to get into the office. They had many choices of where to smoke, I only had one choice of a entrance. Hence the resentment.

    Ron – we all do stupid things, but the best we can do is learn from it.

    ybonsey – I’m rooting for the Russian women myself though I have to admit I kinda feel sorry for any of our security guards that come up against that soviet block in an effort to enforce the policy.

    tpgoddess – yeah, I think the smoking cliques is one of the basic archetypes of corporate culture. And as far as that goes, if contained, it’s a pretty harmless one.

    jules – I used to collect ashtrays myself. After I quit smoking I used them as cat food bowls, but eventually I sold my collection for cheap at a garage sale. It was painful parting with some of them, but I was a big girl now and the cats can eat out of real bowls.

    Truce – Really, they mean you no harm. I think you’ll be safe as long as you don’t get between them and their cigarettes.

    Adam – I didn’t begrudge the smokers their little smokers’ ghetto. It was out of the way of any main walkways or entrances. I think our new policy is pretty harsh. However, since we are a health care organization, and this policy extends to our hospitals and medical centers, it kinda makes sense. There’s probably nothing more disconcerting than seeing health professional in their white jackets hanging around outside the clinic smoking a cigarette. At the IT campus we never seen any members, but since they made it company-wide, well . . . if you’re looking for the smoking programmers they are outstanding in their field . . . literally.

    Kangaroos – if your smoldering bad self wants to make the acquaintance of one of our smoking hot Russian babes, you just say the word. If you bring a pack of cigarettes, I think they’ll follow you anywhere.

  9. awe shucks ~ dats wona da sweet test things u ever sed my way

    axusually tho i probably couldnt keep up ~ too men E kangaroo burgers lately – an it aint even the 4th yet

  10. Be glad you’re not in China. No Smoking signs in China are a polite suggestion. The billiard/ping pong room at the sports center has No Smoking signs on each wall and an ashtray on each table.

    The Russian will prevail. They have a secret underground.

  11. I feel sorry for the smokers at my company because they are such a motley crew of mismatched folks (the brat apparently sneaks out and smokes, too). But I feel left out of the social time, and the time AWAY from the grind, and wonder why there’s no acceptable equivalent of wasting time for non-smokers.

    I hate walking through the fumes, too (always seem to stick the smoking area near the doors), as I’m allergic to the smoke… plus I have that insecurity that makes me think I’m being spoken of, and unflatteringly.

    It will be interesting to see if you discover where the smoker dudes and dudettes create their underground.


  12. You describe the Russian posse with such richness and clarity, I could see them. I can understand your admiration. There’s something inspiring about rebels, even if they do smell charbroiled.

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