'A Culture Built Around Smoking': smokers weigh in on the ban

From an article written by Lauren Gray '16 and published in the Phoenix on April 7, 2014:

On February 10, 2014, President Karen Lawrence sent an email to the entire campus community formally announcing the new Smoke-Free Policy that the college is set to begin implementing in August 2015. The decision was the result of a recommendation made by the Smoking Policy Task Force, an Ad-Hoc Committee chaired by Polly Waldman, after a ten-month long examination process that began in April 2012.  

Student publications outside of the Phoenix have touched upon a number of issues with the ban, including an eloquent editorial by Emily Rogers '15 for SLCSpeaks that illuminates its passage through Student Senate and the implications that will have in the governing of Sarah Lawrence. 

The smoking ban is a complicated issue: there's no singular problem or voice that can sum up smokers' experience at Sarah Lawrence. This series of interviews attempts to combine the narratives of Sarah Lawrence's smokers and illuminate the role they plays in our school's culture. Each smoker at Sarah Lawrence has a different reason for why they reach for a cigarette. It's a personal act, often leading to a moment of reflection or starting a conversation. These portraits capture the students as they smoked and reflected on what smoking meant to them. Each student was asked four questions:

  • What would you say your primary reason for smoking is?
  • How has smoking affected the quality of your social life at Sarah Lawrence?
  • What is your opinion of the smoking ban, either in implementation or the way in which it was passed? How will the smoking ban impact your experience at Sarah Lawrence, either as a smoker or as a student/resident?
  • Do you think smoking is a part of Sarah Lawrence culture?

Agatha Monasterios-Ramirez '17

"I enjoy smoking. It’s the same as when I make a cup of coffee — because I feel like it."

"I think it’s not going to work the way the administration hopes it will, but whatever. People are still gonna smoke."

"I really think it’ll have zero effect. Like, that’s the problem. It’s not going to change anything. No one’s going to care. It’s a part of every culture. I think people will still smoke even if they aren’t allowed to. It’s a big part of a lot of people’s lives. A lot of people come here and start smoking, but a lot of people come here and are already smoking. I just feel like the smoking ban is so minuscule in importance to the students. If nobody smoked [because of the ban] there definitely would be a difference, but that’s not gonna happen. It’s not gonna happen anywhere. Sarah Lawrence attracts a certain type of person, and often it’s the type of person who smokes. That can’t be denied."

Nachi Conde-Farley '14

"[Smoking] is a form of self-medicating because I have a lot of anxiety issues. I like the social aspect of it, of course. There’s a little bit of a gift economy involved - you can just go up to someone and ask for a light and have a conversation with them, or ask for a cigarette. And when you bum out to someone that’s an altruistic action. A lot of the time I meet people by sharing a cigarette at the pub or bumming a cigarette to someone outside the library and talking about my conference work. So it’s almost like a little snapshot type conversation I can have with someone: you smoke a cigarette, say hi, check-in, and connect with people. Overridingly, though, [I smoke] because I’m anxious. And I’m addicted at this point."

"I think that [the ban] speaks to the general climate that the administration puts out. They really don’t care for the democratic input of students... I see that the process that they went through to push this through was very undemocratic, despite the grievances of students and the Student Senate, who spoke out against this. This ban is something that could be feasible at UC Irvine, where Karen Lawrence used to be the chancellor* and where most of the students live off-campus. [At UC Irvine] it’s more like once when you go to school, you’re entering a professional space.

"Here, the campus is our home space, and [that means] a ban really won’t work here. There’s also been concerns from a number of community members about smoking indoors, which is another fire hazard and will create even more tension between smokers and non-smokers. Ultimately, if people are stuffed indoors smoking, it’s just going to create conflict."

Staff Note: Karen Lawrence's official title was Dean of the School of Humanities at University of California, Irvine.

Colleen O'Connor '15

"I think [smoking is] a reasonless activity. I don’t really have a solid reason. It’s not like I smoke for any purpose... I just do. Killing time, measuring breaths."

"All of the taglines [the school] sent us are so horrifying. They have this assumption of what 'health' is. 'Health for All' and 'Be Healthy'? You have to be respectful of everyone’s personal habits, smokers included. You can’t force students to change their lifestyles when they come here. That will make even more people uncomfortable."

"It’s part of the culture just because it’s something that people here do. It’s like anywhere. Anywhere you go, people are smoking outside of building. There are so many professors who have bummed cigarettes from me and it’s led to some great conversations. The conversations that I’ve had with Shahnaz Rouse—casual, outside of class conversation—about class are wonderful. [That type of conversation] levels out the difference between professors and students. It brings us together and allows us to casually interact. I had this shitty conference work last year for my film class, and we were all assigned to make videos in outside groups. I was working with one other girl and my professor, Robin Starbuck, and we did all the projections for the Chekhov play that they were putting on in the PAC. We would all go outside and smoke cigarettes and bitch about how shitty it was that we had to do the work. It was something that we all did together and it really unified us."

Naomi Brenman '17

"I made 80 to 90% of my friends during the first few months of school outside Hill House smoking. Period. I think it was just a way to meet people.

“It seemed like there was a 'conversation,' but I didn’t feel like it was actually a conversation. They were like, 'hey guys, what do you think,' but didn’t listen to what anyone said. People are still gonna smoke. If that means that hordes of kids are gonna have to sit on Kimball, because it’s not technically on campus, then they’ll do that. Or people will smoke in their rooms. If [administration is] saying it’s to be healthier, it’s not going to change the mind of anyone who already smokes, because anyone who’s ever smoked cigs knows it’s bad for them. It’s not a myth. I went to the Health Center the other day, and they were like, ‘oh, are you going to quit?’ and I was like, ‘no, now’s not the right time,’ and they were like, ‘well, you know it’s bad…’ and I was like, ‘yes, I’ve been to health class, it’s not a mystery to me.’

Blair Bird '17

"[My primary reason for smoking is] anxiety. It’s my time to relax and take deep breaths. I smoke by myself, it’s not just when I’m with other people. I’m at that point where I get headaches if I don’t smoke."

"I haven’t heard about the ban at all except through emails. If they talked to us about it and why they think this campus will benefit by being a non-smoking campus, what the pros are, then that would be way more helpful than these e-mails saying ‘on this date you won’t be able to smoke anymore.’ And then I think that it’s just irritating. If it was more personal I think the ban would be something that I could get behind and take more seriously. Now, every time I read the emails, I just think woah, that’s not happening. I’m a smoker, I smoke."

"One of the first things that my RA told me when I got here was that the majority of her friends didn’t smoke freshman year, and now they smoke. It’s not even like they smoke occasionally, they smoke heavily. I smoked before I came here, but I know a lot of people who didn’t smoke before they came here but have since gotten in to the habit."

Andrea Rogers '16

"[I smoke to] take the edge off. Honestly, having a moment of peace and quiet during the day.  You can kind of just walk away and take a five minute break from the bustling world."

"[The smoking ban] flew pretty under the radar, especially from people who are not deeply involved in student associations, which I didn’t appreciate. I also really understand where [the administration] is coming from, because most campuses are moving towards being smoke free - similar to parks and public spaces, especially in the state of New York. I think it’s a totally reasonable move. There must be things put in place around campus to address that a good percentage of the student population does in fact smoke — giving everyone tickets if they’re on campus and smoking is not going to be very efficient for security or for students."

Jomana Abdullah '16

"My parents [are the primary reason I smoke]. They’ve been smoking for 13 years, but they smoke hookah, not cigarettes. They smoke about two or three times a day for about an hour and a half. It’s a cultural thing, at least from my dad’s side, so I just got into it like that. I never used to smoke cigarettes before. It’s a pretty annoying habit."

"If you feel awkward with people, you can say ‘let’s smoke a cigarette,’ and if you’re smoking it’s a distraction tool. Que mas—I feel like also if you’re not smoking it’s a judgment here too. It’s kind of sad. I tried quitting."

"I love [the smoking ban]. Oh yeah. I don’t like to see butts on the tulips, you know?"

"I think [smoking] is this kind of grungy, hipster-ish mode of fashion. People feel very much obliged to accommodate that here. It’s a fashionable thing here."

Draye Wilson '14

“I smoke probably because of stress. It’s kind of a ritual. It’s not as much, ‘oh, I feel stressed, I have to smoke now,’ it’s more of a habit. But like, I can’t really articulate a motivation behind it.”

“People talk about it like it’s this very social thing, like it’s a way to meet people and make friends, but like… I don’t really think it is. I quit smoking for like 6 or 7 months, and the quality of my social life didn’t change at all.”

“I think the smoking ban is kinda silly, just because it doesn’t seem to be a majority rule. Conversationally, I haven’t heard anyone push for it. Like, I would like to hear the argument… I have never heard someone articulate the reason why our system now … I don’t really know who’s suffered from how it is now. I really don’t think people are going to follow it. People will still smoke in their rooms, and it’s like… so people aren’t going to smoke outside? People don’t follow the rules in terms of smoking, so I don’t think it’s going to make that much of a difference.”

Thomas Batuello '17

“At this point, I really really enjoy smoking. It’s something that gives me immense pleasure. I’m definitely addicted, so if I don’t have it, I stress out. Usually I reach for cigarettes for pleasure, sometimes I want one if I’m anxious, or feeling stressed out, but it’s usually just for the enjoyment of smoking.”

“I definitely have met a lot of people, at the beginning [of the year] especially, outside of Hill House smoking cigarettes. A lot of people I became acquainted with by virtue of we were all outside smoking. It doesn’t get any deeper than meeting people though.”

“I can’t imagine the smoking ban working particularly well. It depends on how tightly they enforce it, and how virulent the security guards are.”

“It seems like there’s definitely a higher percentage of smoker than just an average cross section of young people in the United States. I think there’s definitely a smoking culture here, and part of it is the artsy fartsy liberal arts school vibe. There’s definitely a large community of smokers here, but I think if I didn’t smoke it wouldn’t adversely affect my experience here. I haven’t heard of anyone complaining that not being a smoker is hurting their social life in any way.”

Jordan Martin '16

“I started smoking when I was 17, the summer before my senior year of high school. It was because a friend of mine had started kind of smoking, so I started doing it as well and picked it up. Honestly, in a sad sense, there was like a weird depression, or some sadness that I was going through, and smoking was kind of a way to relieve stress and fill a certain void. And when I started buying my own packs, which at the time I did think was so cool, I was like ‘oh, this is so different, my parents don’t smoke, no one supports this…’ completely trying to rebel and do something that was so uncharacteristic of me, because I don’t think anybody was expecting me to start smoking. I didn’t ever think of it until I started hanging out with a certain friend.”

“There’s such a culture built around smoking, and it’s become such a social thing. I think that there are probably more social smokers here than there are people that are actually truly addicted to cigarettes and will just have them on their own. I’m one of those people, I’ll just go out and have one by myself, I don’t need to be talking to people to go out and have a smoke or whatever. It definitely is such an aspect to the school, people love their cigarettes and have conversations, and that’s a way to approach people. People literally strike up conversations, and it starts with something as simple as like, ‘can I borrow a lighter?’ and that’s how people meet. It’s such a part of the culture here.”

“The smoking ban does make sense, as much as they’re trying to cut back on smoking on this campus and the policy that they’ve had in effect so far has not been working. So I understand that it’s something that affects the entire school, and secondhand smoke causes a lot of issues, obviously. This campus is enveloped in a cloud of smoke constantly, so it’s affecting people that don’t smoke, and don’t want to be around that. I think it’s fair to those people that they shouldn’t have to constantly be walking around clouds of smoke, inhaling it, breathing it, smelling it, and so I’m not fully against [the ban]. It’s going to be a hassle and it’s going to be annoying for me, but I think one of the biggest issues is that people are going to start smoking more inside their rooms. And that’s going to cause a lot of issues as far as having to enforce that rule and to focus more on getting people outside of the campus to smoke. That’s going to be a really huge deal. And speaking as an RA this year, I know a lot of responsibility is going to fall on them. I know a lot of RAs are probably going to have a difficult time with that, dealing with having their advisees smoking inside. But I think that [the ban] makes a lot of sense and it is fair to people who don’t want to be around that, because [secondhand smoke is] something that we shouldn’t be forcing upon our students.”

“Smoking does bring people together, in that you see a group of people smoking a cigarette and go up and strike up a conversation. And people – not necessarily form bonds over it – but there is like, you know, ‘oh, do you want to go out and have a cigarette with me?’ or whatever, and that’s how people interact. And on weekends, running into people on nights out, seeing people you just want to have a cigarette with them, you just want to have a conversation with them, it often happens while you’re sharing a cigarette, or both of you are smoking at the same time. I think it is something that is really so ingrained in the culture here at school."

 Alia Shinbrough '14

Alia Shinbrough '14

"I’m addicted."

"I’ve met a lot of people either through bumming cigarettes or bumming them cigarettes. And I’ve had a lot of conversations over cigarettes that have really helped me in my life here.  I’ve made friends who have helped me in my time here through those conversations."

"I think it was a little skeevy that [the administration] passed [the smoking ban] without getting too much student input, but I understand the reasons why they did that. If they had gotten student input I think that the ban would not have passed."

"We have a lot of students here who smoke and I mean that is pretty much a part of the culture. It’s part of the library culture. It’s part of the pub culture. It’s what starts people talking to each other. We’re an awkward bunch of people and without that substitute I think there might be a problem with people getting to know each other."

Written and photographed by Ellie Brumbaum '17