According to Business Insider, cigarette butts are the ocean’s single largest source of trash. Smokers seem to think they can flick their used butts pretty much anywhere – on sidewalks, in waterways, public parks. Out the car window, at times causing disastrous forest fires that claim lives and cause billions of dollars in property damage. While smoking rates seem to be declining overall, vaping rates are skyrocketing among Canadian teens. After everything we’ve learned about the impacts of cigarettes, I genuinely can’t understand why so many people still smoke.
Every day during my lunch break, I try to take a walk to get a bit of exercise and fresh air. I work in the financial district so the crowding and car fumes downtown are bad enough, but the amount of cigarette smoke I have to breathe in while walking down the street worries and enrages me beyond words. Everywhere, smokers line the sidewalks and blow their carcinogenic clouds right in people’s faces. They don’t seem to give a damn. It smells awful, especially in the summer heat.
The worst offenders are people who smoke while walking down the street, leaving a trail of poison behind them that can’t be avoided. Also, people who smoke while standing next to others as they wait for the bus, and smokers who feel entitled to stand right beside building entrances. I’ve had to move seats on the subway because I developed a headache within minutes of sitting beside a smoker. Movies and TV shows still seem to have a love affair with cigarettes, too. Peaky Blinders in particular is a big offender; the ubiquity of smoking on the show is positively stratospheric. I wanted to throw up just watching it.
The Ontario government has passed laws designed to protect the public but they’re never enforced. If you asked most people, they’d have a rudimentary familiarity with these laws, at best. Hardly anyone knows about this one, for example:
You cannot smoke or vape on the outdoor grounds of a community recreational facility and any public areas within 20 metres of its grounds.
And if they know about it, they don’t care. The City of Toronto has also passed bylaws including one that prohibits smoking within 9 metres of any building used by the public. Although this bylaw is well-known and signs are posted everywhere, rarely does anyone heed them. At my place of work, there’s a large outdoor space where smokers can congregate far away from the entrance, but almost every day as I enter the building, some oaf is standing right there, obnoxiously puffing away.
On a positive note, I’ve seen acknowledgements in the media lately about the fact that smokers tend to take more work breaks and there’s a growing appetite for redress. Global News reports:
A Japanese company is giving its non-smoking staff an additional six days of holiday a year to make up for the time smokers take for cigarette breaks.
This is only fair. It’s about time!
I understand that cigarettes are highly addictive. I have personal experience of a close family member who for many years smoked in my presence. Eventually they limited their smoking to the basement, and then later, outside. When they found out they had a brain aneurysm, they realized they had no choice but to quit. They did it cold turkey and though it was hard, they never looked back. My grandfather was a chain smoker and after he retired, he suffered a stroke. But that’s not what did him in; years later, he died of lung cancer. At a family reunion a couple of years ago, almost everyone was smoking right where we were all set up in the garage with games, drinks and food. They didn’t even have the decency to walk 3 metres away to smoke outside. Truly incomprehensible. The craziest part is my grandmother is 91, in fantastic health, and has no plans to quit smoking. She’s outlived my other grandmother, who passed away last year at 91 and never smoked a cigarette in her life.
As someone who’s been treated for cancer recently, I’m more sensitive about the issue now and I struggle to understand society’s apathy about this problem. No one ever says anything, and because no one ever says anything, no one ever says anything. I know that in this environment, if I were to speak up, people would either ignore me or respond as though I was the one being rude. From time to time when someone’s smoke is blowing in my face and I can’t get away, I’ll give them a dirty look and they usually get the hint and move away. But it shouldn’t come to that.
All of this would change if the public were better educated and everyone made an effort to speak up. There’s a limit to the extent to which sin taxes will deter smokers and governments have been utter cowards when it comes to holding tobacco companies accountable. As long as these corporations rake in massive profits and our political representatives bend to their will, the price we all pay for this heinous habit will continue to rise.