In recent memory, many college campuses have gone “smoke-free,” along with innumerable other institutions. The motivation is noble and the consequence often admirable: nonsmokers are no longer tortured by the pollution of others and smokers find themselves able to resist a self-destructive urge.
Strictness of enforcement and compliance varies, just as it does for other laws and regulations. Who among us, for instance, hasn’t driven 36 mph in a 35 mph zone? That’s not “going a little above the limit.” That’s speeding. The sign, after all, says thirty-five and not “35-ish” or “what you judge to be thirty-five.”
Some smoke-free places afford specified “dens” for tobacco consumption. There, one not only finds a rather substantial blue haze within which several individuals may be loitering, but a fairly significant litter problem, as well. Butts and matches populate the surrounding grounds. And then there’s the cigarette paraphernalia.
As an admitted occasional violator (felony or misdemeanor?), which of course means I’m also a recidivist, the response behavior of others is sometimes of interest.
Scowls and dirty looks happen unsurprisingly, though rarely. Once in a great, great while someone may pass while pinching their noses (I am not making this up). Mostly, though, the delinquent drawing on a filter generates little interest or attention.
Except for one group.
And maybe not the group one would expect.
These are the smokers who have quit. Quit buying, that is.
Every bit as addicted as the fewer than 20 percent of the U.S. population who persist in the habit, the cohort is sometimes referred to as “closet” smokers.
Elsewhere, in the retail world, they are called non-buyers.
Detroit rocker Bob Seger named his 1972 album “Smokin’ O.P.’s” The title mirrored the album’s content: “smoking other people’s songs.” Seven of the nine tracks included on the album were by such other writers as Leon Russell, Tim Hardin and Chuck Berry.
And the title was itself derivative of the expression “smoking other people’s” cigarettes, or never buying one’s own. The message was reinforced, lest it be too subtle for some, with the album’s cover art mimicking a package of Lucky Strike cigarettes, including the blue band at center top.
The movement toward smoke-free environments had the unexpected outcome of outing those in the closet and making them beggars.
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