[Virginia GASP]          The Difference One Person Can Make

Added on 1 July, 2006, Updated at intervals

Here begins a growing set of pages of what individuals have accomplished both alone, and in combination with others, to achieve No-Smoking in their homes, cars, workplace, where they shop, bank, vote, and so forth.  So often through the years, those of us who have worked to have smoke-free areas have been told -- you are the only one who feels this way.  Now you know that you are not the only one!  And you have resources (Fact Sheets in this web site) to show some factual data for why you should have the right to safely breathe -- even in public!

of Smoke-Free Places
Making a Company Work Place Smoke-Free

Some years ago, in February 1979, Robert (Bob)  A. Fox of Seattle, Washington, USA, began a volunteer activist group in the state of Washington, in the northwest corner of the United States of America.   It is called FANS, Fresh Air for Non-Smokers.  Looking back at what he and his group, and other grassroots groups have accomplished, he has this advice to offer people young, old, and in-between, across the planet.  Thanks to the untiring work of Bob and his group, the state of Washington has an excellent law in place regarding not smoking around people.

The evolution of Tobacco Smoke-Free Places, written June, 2006

OVERVIEW.  This article is for those of you who are too young to remember what it was like to breathe tobacco smoke wherever people went -- physician's and dentist's offices, restrooms, elevators, all retail outlets including  grocery stores, drug stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, banks, the voting places, convenience stores, hospitals -- even the emergency rooms, schools, movie and concert theaters, restaurants and cafeterias, museums, buses including school buses, trains, airplanes, bus stations, train stations, airports, and much more.  It is to remind you that it took many years of hard work by many dedicated people to reach where we are today, and to remind you that without constant vigilance, these gains can be taken away.

It is important to remember that the tobacco industry has historically positioned itself as the champion of the smoker, using words such as
"discrimination" and "second class citizen" when referring to smokers who could not light up anywhere they pleased, and talking about a loss of "rights."  However, it is the same tobacco industry which has continued to make tobacco products containing nicotine which not only addict the consumer, but kill one out of every two tobacco consumers, when the product is used as intended.  The product also harms and kills the bystanders who breathe the smoke from the tobacco products.  Thus, the tobacco industry shows no consideration and no mercy for its consumers, while having the appearance of championing so-called "smoker's rights."

By the early 20th century, the tobacco industry had succeeded in helping to "normalize" smoking in public places, whereas historically this had not been the case.  Thus, totally smoke-free places were unheard of, so asking for non-smoking areas was the only option -- a poor one -- but it was the beginning of what led to totally smoke-free places much later.

In the late 1960's and early 1970's, seeking to find ways to make it safe to breathe, even in public, groups and individuals around the globe thought it best whenever possible not to use negative words such as "no", "non-" and "anti-".  The tobacco industry liked negative words which they used to try to belittle pro-health activists, both individuals and groups.  The words "smoke-free", "clean indoor air", and "pro-health" are words the tobacco industry could not twist into negative meanings.

All private and corporate business people and government agencies at city, county, state, and federal levels resisted controlling or banning smoking.  They were not concerned with the health of their customers or employees.  The changes began happening first when those in power were shown how much smoking was costing them:  in property and furniture damage, increased painting and maintenance costs, higher janitorial service expenses, wasted employee time, increased health care costs, and higher fire and life insurance rates.  And secondly, especially in tobacco states, when it was shown that the tobacco industry was opposing not only legislative regulations on smoking, but also voluntary bans on smoking in the workplace.

The tobacco industry, and those food and other industries they also owned, often made large contributions and/or business transactions to the media, to school boards and local governments, as well as to state and federal legislators, and various associations, including some health groups.  Economic blackmail was applied in many areas by the tobacco industry.  This included running ads against businesses which went smoke-free (as in Virginia when Philip Morris ran an ad against a local telephone company), recommending to the tobacco industry employees that they either boycott -- or make their opinions known -- to businesses which went smoke-free, and withdrawing business from companies, including local physicians and dentists, which were smoke-free or advertised in publications which did not accept tobacco ads.

It would take many pages to write the story of each battlefield, but a brief account of some of them follows below.

RESTAURANTS.  Restaurant and hospitality associations have traditionally worked closely with the tobacco industry in resisting attempts to get restaurants, hotels, and motels to provide a healthy environment for their employees and customers.  Over and over again, when it was first suggested that there be no-smoking areas, and then later when it was suggested that all restaurants should be totally no-smoking, the restaurant associations and managers insisted they would have to close their doors and go bankrupt if they did not allow unrestricted smoking.  Logic was not a part of the industry's arguments.  Economic fear was the leading argument.

In the beginning, when restaurants and cafeterias did provide a no-smoking area, it was always in the most undesirable part of the restaurant, often reached after walking through lots of smoke, or if the restaurant dining area had two levels, the no-smoking section was usually placed above the smoking area.  Even young children know that smoke rises.  The smoking and the no-smoking sections were not separated by physical barriers, and the smoke did not read signs and did not know it was supposed to stay only in the smoking area.  Wherever restaurants, and even bars, have been required to be smoke-free, business has continued and often increased.

HOSPITALS.  Like the restaurant situation, logic did not prevail.  While one would assume health would be a major concern of hospitals, it was the business end that won out.  Hospital associations and the managers insisted that patients would not use their facilities, and people would not come to visit the patients, if smoking were not permitted everywhere, including the emergency room, the waiting rooms, the hospital cafeteria, and maternity, cancer, and cardiology sections.  The fact that there were options, such as nicotine in gum, available to assist smokers, was ignored.  Hospital associations and managers were not concerned with the detrimental effect of the smoke on the healing process of sick patients, on the development of infants, the immediate dangers of breathing in smoke, the long term impact of secondhand smoking, or the fire hazards of tobacco products which the industry had manipulated to continue burning when left unattended.  The tobacco industry said they supported regulations -- but these were to have no-smoking in the operating room, and in any room which had oxygen tanks.

Some hospitals began making a few attempts at no-smoking sections by dividing the waiting rooms into smoking and no-smoking without any smoke barriers.  When U.S. Representative Dick Durbin stated he would enter a federal bill to require all hospitals to be smoke-free, the hospital associations responded by saying they would phase it in by making it a part of their accreditation process, and that he would therefore not need to pursue a federal law.

GROCERY STORES.  Smoking was allowed all through the small and very large grocery stores, with cigarettes often close to burning out children's eyes and skin as smokers passed by children sitting in grocery carts.  Ashes dropped on the food products, the fresh vegetables and fruits, cigarettes were stamped out on the floors creating trash and dirt, the air was filled with smoke making it hard for employees and customers to breathe, and standing in line with even one person smoking was a hazard for health and life.  

SCHOOLS.  Teachers sometimes smoked while interviewing students for guidance and other situations.   Teachers' lounges made no provisions for the nonsmoking teachers and staff.  These smoking rooms were frequently next to the library or other areas used by students and staff, and the smoke seeped through into classrooms and libraries, making students and adults ill.  Smoking tables in the cafeterias, and smoking rooms for older students were provided in some schools.  Students found that restrooms were another smoky den. School administrators, school boards, and the local governments fought against restrictions on smoking in schools, and on school grounds, saying it would be unenforceable and impossible to regulate, and that a ban on smoking would be detrimental to the learning process.  The tobacco industry argued that if bans on smoking were made, they should apply only during the day, and not at night when the janitorial staff, or community meetings, or sports events were held, ignoring the additional problems of smoke and nicotine residue in the air and on walls, furniture, curtains, etc.

AIRLINES.  The powers that operated airlines and airports were certain no one would fly if they couldn't smoke, and they would have to park the planes.  They were not concerned about the health of their flight crews or their passengers.  Those that did provide no-smoking areas divided the airline cabin in different configurations which were all totally unsatisfactory since the air conditioning systems are designed to distribute the air, including the smoke, throughout the passenger cabin.  They decided to become smoke-free when they were shown how much weight tobacco tars added to their planes, and how much extra fuel was required to haul the tar around.  The tars were also detrimental to the electronic and pressurization equipment and the weight of the tar displaced fare paying customers.

SUMMARY.  The above stories are just the tip of the iceberg in the efforts of so many people to get clean air to breathe in all the places where people need to go.  There are many more horror stories of how individuals and groups had to deal with the tobacco industry, extremely hostile legislatures, belligerent business people, and backward government agencies.  Much has been accomplished in the past 30+ years, but there is much room for further improvement.  It will not happen without dedicated people to take the place of the dedicated and courageous people who fought in the trenches and have earned their time to retire.  Many of these health pioneers were part of grassroots groups which never received any salary.  Many brave pioneers are no longer among the living to enjoy the fruits of their labor.  Those of us who have lived through the changes are thankful for what they did while they were here on this earth.

WARNING:  There are people working 24 hours a day/ 7 days a week figuring out ways to take away the gains it took a lot of people many years to acquire, so constant vigilance is an absolute must!

Making a Company Work Place Smoke-Free
This is also written by Robert
(Bob)  A. Fox of Seattle, Washington, USA, and is based on his experience of making his own work place smoke-free.  He began the project in the late 70's, early 80's..

After working in a department where smoking was very restricted, I was transferred to an engineering department that was located in an air conditioned building that had no restrictions on smoking.  I was appalled at the amount of cigarette smoke that permeated the entire building, and I found myself falling asleep at my desk.  In reality, I was being asphyxiated.

I complained to my supervisor who was sympathetic, but afraid to do anything.  I asked the company safety department and the State Department of Labor for help -- all to no avail.  I felt that something had to be done, and I chose to start by trying to get the cafeteria divided.  I knew that getting any change in the offices would be impossible.

Since management was tough on any misuse of company time or material, I wrote my letters at home on personal stationery with an old fashioned fountain pen and sent them to the president of the company at his home by registered U.S. mail.  I did not dare use in-plant mail.

Shortly after the first letter had been sent off, I was summoned to a private office for an interview.  When I heard the interviewers first question -- "How is your sex life?" -- I told him he was wasting his and my time and walked out of the office.  I was not "interviewed" again.

Fortunately, the vice president of the company was health-minded, and an order was issued for all cafeterias to be divided into smoking and no-smoking sections.  The facilities department was told to satisfy me with the placement of signs at my cafeteria.  they tried to put the signs on tripods, but I knew the janitors and smokers would move them aside and I insisted the signs be attached to the walls and that there should be enough signs to clearly identify each section.  They complied after I threatened to call the vice president of the company.

After we organized
FANS, Fresh Air for Non-Smokers, I tried placing our brochures in the bulletin board holders, but later I would find them in the trash can.  I then put out just a couple at a time and later checked the trash can if the brochures were gone.  Evidently most were taken by non-smokers because we began getting phone calls from employees who were being harassed by management during "private" one on one interviews.  We suggested that they take someone like a shop steward with them to the interviews, or that they take a tape recorder and place it where it could be seen.  Several victims called to say these suggestions were effective.

After I retired, I acquired a share of the company's stock, and I tried to get the issue on the stockholders' meeting agenda, but the company and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) refused, saying that smoking was a normal part of doing business.  The SEC denied saying that, but I have their letter.

Prior to the next meeting, I asked for proxy cards in our newsletter, and I received a fistful.  I had two stockholders accompany me to the meeting in 1983.  I announced at the registration desk that I was going to be nominated for president of the board, and that I was going to vote the proxies.  I could not have gotten more action if I had said I had a nuclear device in my briefcase, and I was quickly assured that a smoking plan would be announced during the meeting.  I guess they feared I might be elected.

Following the announcement at the stockholders meeting, there was a big change at the company.  The new policy was effective for all the company buildings nationwide and was written up in the company newsletter.  For the first time ever, and for several weeks over the next few months, the company newsletter carried articles about the health effects of smoking.  A program called Smokebusters was developed, and its symbol was a human face on a cloud of smoke from a cigarette inside a red circle like the one which meant no-smoking elsewhere.  It appeared in every issue of the weekly company newspaper.

No Smoking signs were made available in the stationery supply rooms and people were encouraged to put them where they did not want to be exposed to tobacco smoke.  Prior to the new policy, putting up a No Smoking sign might have been a dismissal offense.

The new policy was started by making the small offices located in the manufacturing areas smoke-free.  That created another problem, because the office smokers then started smoking in the manufacturing areas, causing more smoke in the mechanics work areas.  Notices were sent to all managers to stop the practice, and I believe the smokers were told to go outside the buildings.  That was also considered a problem since the outside in some of the large buildings was a very long walk.

The policy was put into effect gradually in all other areas, and on July 1, 1993 all of this company's buildings across the nation became smoke-free.  All smoking had to be done outside the buildings, and 126,000 employees began enjoying a smoke-free work place.  It had taken 10 years to implement!

To prevent anyone else from forcing a backward giant into doing something it was reluctant to do, the company rules were changed to require anyone running for a board position to be accepted by the board in the November preceding the shareholder meetings in April.  In addition, that person would be required to own $1,000 worth of stock.

More historical facts from other parts of the USA will be added.


[Virginia GASP]  Updated 4 July 2006