The shame that San Diego smokers feel

"There are a lot of vices and addictions that are much worse"

Without complaining — audibly, at least — they leave the building to light up, even when it’s cold and raining. In some offices, that means taking a 15-floor elevator ride to the street.

But remember when people puffed away while working at their desks? The smoke’s ubiquity in offices was taken for granted. It wasn’t until 1995 that California passed the law banning smoking inside public buildings.

A man on his smoke break downtown told me a story about the transition days. “It was no big deal for most of us,” he said, as we stood in the shadows of the Wells Fargo building on B Street between Fourth and Fifth Avenues. “Everyone started going outside right away, except one guy. To stay inside, he’d take his smoke break on the pot in the bathroom. When you went in there, you knew right away what was going on because there were trails of smoke coming up over the stall walls. You’d say, ‘You’re not supposed to be smoking in there.’ And he’d come back with, ‘No, it’s not me. It must have been somebody before me.’ Yeah, right. ‘I smell smoke right now, and you’re the only one in here.’ ‘Well,’ he’d say, ‘that was another guy. I don’t know who it was.’ So you’d turn the light off when you left and leave him sitting in the dark.”

A few days later, I was in a classroom on the Naval Amphibious Base, located approximately where the road going south out of Coronado starts onto the Silver Strand. On the whiteboard at the front of the room, which is used mostly for CPR training, a sign read: “Designated Smoking Area Is Behind the Garbage Containers.” Curious about how this message is taken, I found the dumpsters across the street, where they were protecting the view of a corner of San Diego Bay from an unsightly group of smoking sailors.

Does it bother you guys, I asked, to be sent out behind the garbage to smoke? Two of them laughed, saying the Navy has always limited smoking to out-of-the-way areas. I mentioned that the classroom sign I saw made me also wonder how California smokers, downtown, for instance, feel about being forced out of buildings they work in daily when they want a cigarette. The sailors didn’t think it bothered people in California anymore because the restriction has been in effect for so long. “But in Kentucky, where I’m from,” said one, “you can still smoke in restaurants and bars. If people there were suddenly told they couldn’t do that, they’d probably take offense.”

I continued speaking with the second sailor, whom I’ll call Steve, since he doesn’t want his words to come to the attention of his command. “I think a lot of people who smoke are actually ashamed of it,” he said, giving himself as an example. “I won’t smoke in front of my parents, my brothers, or my young son because I just don’t want them to see me do it.”

Steve, who is a petty officer first class, granted that smokers often take too many breaks, possibly a contributor to his “shame,” and that other sailors can become resentful over it. “I sometimes get on junior personnel for taking too many smoke breaks because it’s just an excuse to stand around and do nothing.”

Yet Steve sympathizes with his smoking charges: on board the amphibious ships he serves, all smoking is disallowed while refueling or when Harrier jets and helicopters take off and land. “If the restrictions go to 10 or 12 hours, then you’ve got lots of sailors on edge big time, dying for the signal they can smoke again.”

I took my nosiness about smoke breaks back downtown, to San Diego’s large office buildings. For the next two weeks, during the sunny spell we had in January, smoking workers opened up about their habit, and I endured the occasional puff in the face. First impressions suggest that Steve had a valid insight, that many smokers carry at least an uneasy shame about having others see them with a cigarette in their fingers. Among 15–20 smokers who eventually unburdened some of their feelings, only two women consented to give me their names. There was even greater reluctance by current smokers to name their employers; none of them would do it. Most would not even identify what floor of a building they worked on.

Standing in front of the San Diego County Court House, the man I’ll call Ray (“The reason I won’t give you my name is there’s such a social stigma attached to smoking”) betrayed not the slightest qualm about continuing to smoke, although he did acknowledge quitting briefly several times in the past. He said he has smoked for 50 years.

At my back was the bright morning sun, which Ray’s dark glasses shaded from his eyes. On his shirt front was a jury-duty badge. “They haven’t selected me yet,” he said. Ray works in the radiology department of a large hospital, not near downtown. He had no complaints about having to leave his building to smoke. But due, perhaps, to the hospital setting, there are people who hassle him about his smoking, even outside, almost always in a nonverbal way. “They’ll hold their noses or wave their hands in front of their faces, as though my smoke is getting in their eyes, despite the fact that I’m a good distance away.”

Ray, who looked to be in good health, has never had a smoking-related illness, he said, acknowledging that he can’t predict what the future might hold. “But my body is used to smoking and, if I give it a sudden shock by stopping now, that might be worse for me than if I continue. I’ve known people that quit and got cancer only a few years later.”

In San Diego, Ray pays $6.70 for a pack of cigarettes (he returned to the jury room before I could find out which brand), though he said he can get the same pack for $2.70 in Tijuana. “That means that the $4 extra we pay here amounts to a tax on smokers. Smokers don’t get sick nearly as much as people say, but the government uses the taxes to pay for the health-care system. But obese people burden the system much more. Trust me, they come into the hospital with far more problems, in fact, for all imaginable ailments. Society is starting to wake up to that, yet it’s still the smokers who get taxed. The anti-smoking forces have brought that about. Why isn’t there a corresponding tax on food?”

Then there was Rich, who, as I approached, was just lighting up near a planter on the San Diego Civic Center plaza, about 50 feet from the door of the city’s administration building. When he learned what I wanted to talk about, his body seemed to tighten. The subsequent conversation was strained — and short. Rich struck me as hunkering down, readying himself to foil any attempt I might make to trap him into a politically incorrect statement about cigarettes. He denied that he had the slightest complaint about having to step outside to smoke.

Yet despite this circumspection, when I asked Rich, who said he’s been smoking for 60 years, if he’d ever considered quitting, he had this to say: “If my doctor asked me to stop, I’d fire him.”

He appeared to be in good health.

June, whose sandy blonde hair shone in the sun, works in the 27-story Columbia Center building, situated in the square block between A and Ash Streets and Third and Fourth Avenues. She has smoked for 15 years. I asked her how she feels standing on the building’s steps when she takes her smoke breaks. “It’s okay,” she says, “though you definitely feel like an outcast. You can only be in certain places [workers can also smoke on a third-floor deck off the Center], but I know the effects of smoking, and I know people don’t like it. It’s a nasty habit. But you do have that feeling sometimes of being an outcast. Comments are made, you know, like smoking is bad for you or that it smells. That’s why I don’t smoke around people.”

It embarrasses you?

“Of course. Huge,” said June. “It’s an embarrassing habit, although I’m not sure how other smokers feel about it. They mostly seem to feel like it’s their right, that they’re obeying the laws and it’s okay because they’re outside where they’re not affecting anybody around them. I know some smokers get angry and defensive at the comments made toward them. They come right out and say, ‘It’s none of your business’ or ‘It’s my life. I’m not affecting you.’ But me? I’m the opposite. I get embarrassed.”

I asked June if she’d ever tried to stop.

“Never hard enough,” she said. “It wouldn’t last more than a couple of days. But my family and friends still want me to quit.”

What’s their reasoning?


Do you agree with them?

“I agree a hundred percent.”

Are you addicted?

“Yes, it’s the physical withdrawal that’s so difficult.”

Are there any people you won’t smoke near?

“In general, I don’t smoke around people who aren’t smoking. I’ll go off to the side. Do I hide behind buildings or trees? No, I don’t necessarily hide my smoking, just don’t do it in the vicinity of people who aren’t. I never smoke indoors or if I have a passenger in my car. And I’ll typically keep my distance from people that are milling about.”

I’ve often been curious what it’s like to smoke, though not curious enough to start. When I was ten, I picked up the butt of my dad’s cigarette, took one puff, and felt an immediate nausea.

“When you’ve been smoking a long time, like I have, it’s relaxing in a lot of ways,” Wendy Hixson told me outside the Commonwealth Building on A Street, between First Avenue and Front Street. The little area we sat in, with chairs and tables and small trees rising out of faux marble containers, is one of the three nicest smoking reserves I saw at any of San Diego’s high-rise buildings.

“Of course,” continued Hixson, who is 57 and has smoked for 40 years, “the smoking relieves stress, but that’s just habit. You breathe deeper as you smoke. I get away from my desk, my eyes relax, my mind relaxes. I figure out work problems, then I go back and fix them. When I’m out here, my mind doesn’t ever stop, though I don’t consciously think about work. Things just kind of fall into place after I go back inside.”

Hixson has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). She told me her doctor calls it a “moderate” case, though it makes her breathing difficult. “It started coming on about five years ago. The problem includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis, and if I quit smoking, I could probably clear up the bronchitis. But the emphysema means that lots of the little alveoli in my lungs are shot. I used to have asthma too, but that turned out to be caused by a wheat allergy. So I cut the wheat out, and that got better.”

How did you start smoking?

“My parents smoked, which was normal for then. I’m older,” said Hixson, laughing. “But the reason I started smoking? I graduated from high school in 1970 and, by the late 1960s, I had started smoking marijuana. So I started smoking cigarettes for a reason to have matches or a lighter in my purse or other belongings. Then I just took up the cigarettes, too.”

Do you regret that having happened?

“Yes and no. It’s hard to quit, which I did once for three months, but I still enjoy smoking. Some people keep smoking even though they don’t like it anymore. I do enjoy smoking.

“I smoke Maverick’s because they’re relatively inexpensive. I pay $3.75 for a pack. Major brands, depending on where you shop, run anywhere from $5 to $6 or more, depending on the brand and where you get them. Camels, those little short cigarettes, are always a dollar more than Marlboro, which is $5.50, $6 by now. Cartons? You don’t get a break on cartons as a general rule, just a pack times ten. At Costco you can save some money, places like that.

“I do not go to Tijuana, no. Some people do and they save quite a bit because they don’t have to pay tax. And some people go there to buy duty-free cigarettes, so they can sell them on the street. But I heard the ATF [Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms] is bearing down on people like that. You’re not supposed to do that. It’s illegal. But cigarette smuggling still goes on. I used to work for an attorney, and one of our clients was arrested for smuggling.

“The lion’s share of the cost of cigarettes nowadays is the state and federal tax. It’s a sin tax, like the tax on liquor. The government’s hope is twofold: one, that allegedly the extra tax on cigarettes goes to pay for the health care of people who smoke; the other thing is that if they price it up more, people will stop smoking. The high cost has caused more people to stop smoking than anything else. I just buy cheaper cigarettes.”

One guy, I said, told me that “the Man” doesn’t want us to smoke.

“Probably not,” said Hixson, “but there are a lot of vices and addictions that are much worse. Even when you could smoke in restaurants, when you could smoke everywhere, except where they had oxygen in hospitals — that was about it — I was at least considerate of other people. If I was outside and with a nonsmoker, I made sure that my smoke was not blowing in their face. Nowadays, as long as we stay in our little designated smoking areas, everything’s fine.”

How does that feel?

“I have no problem with it. A lot depends on where they put the smoking area. Every business and every building is different. Sometimes they put it in the back alley next to the dumpster, and if you have an ashtray, you’re lucky. Here it’s fairly nice, you have places to sit, there are ashtrays. Hixson’s light brown hair was blowing in the breeze. “I’m a San Diego native and love this sunshine.”

Do most of your friends smoke?

“No, though my husband does. And we smoke in the house. If people come over and they don’t like it, they can go someplace else, make other friends. I’m an adult; it’s my decision. But it is also a matter of respecting the nonsmokers, especially in their homes and their space. So I expect them to respect mine for other reasons.”

Tom stood beneath the 22-story Procopio building between Fifth and Sixth Avenues on B Street, in an open causeway on the west side. He flicked the burnt tip of his cigarette into a spittoon-looking urn with sand in the top.

Nobody in the building told Tom he must stay 20 feet [the state’s minimum requirement] from the door while smoking. But did his company, I asked, say he must take his smoke breaks here? “No,” he told me, a big smile spreading across his face. “It’s just that this spot is where the ashtray is.”

Tom, who is 50-something, looks trim. He has the graying facial skin that smokers often have. He said he’d quit smoking if it started affecting his health.

Does his boss care if Tom takes too many smoke breaks in a day?

“She probably would if she didn’t smoke, too,” said Tom, chuckling again. “She usually goes across the intersection, over there.” He points toward the Bank of America building, which is kitty-corner from where we stand.

“There’s no big deal about having to come outside to smoke,” said Tom. At the mention that some smokers feel banished by the requirement, he scoffs. “Oh, people will always find something to complain about.”

Does he smoke at home?

“Not in the house or in my wife’s car. But I do smoke in a little pick-up truck I drive.”

Michelle Scribner, who is 27 and has smoked for four years, quit smoking when she got pregnant with twins a few years ago. Her resolve lasted for the entire pregnancy, plus an additional four months after she came back to work. Then she started smoking again.

Did the stress at work cause you to light up again?

“I don’t think so. It’s just that I needed something to do out here while I’m on break.”

Scribner works in an upstairs law office in the Westin Hotel building, which, on the first floor facing C Street, houses Jessop’s Jewelers. She told me that several months ago she was asked by building employees to move her sidewalk smoking away from the middle of the block. They said her smoke was entering Jessops’ doors and the C Street entrance of the San Diego Regional Chamber of Commerce, whose address is on Broadway, on the other side of the building. Scribner’s boss allows her three breaks a day, one for lunch. For the others, she stands near the building’s northwest corner, where she has an ashtray.

“When you’re out on break,” Scribner said, “people spot you from a distance, since you’re standing there smoking, and come up trying to bum cigarettes. Or they’ll hit you up for money.”

Lily, 57, and a very fit librarian, quit smoking four years ago, but retains vivid memories of her habit. “Inside and outside smoking are different experiences,” she said. “I think it was something that got disseminated into the air, either the smell or taste. Or maybe I couldn’t quite inhale as much smoke. I’m not sure what was going on, but it wasn’t as fun [to be outside]. I guess you could put it that way.”

The cause of the diminished sensations, Lily speculated, was movement in the air. “It didn’t have to be a heavy breeze or wind,” she said. “If there was anything in the air, and there’s always something in the air that makes things waft, then you’re not going to get the same experience. Smoking, to me, was definitely a stronger experience indoors.”

When the smoking law first sent people outdoors, “it was more annoying,” said Lily, who started smoking at 16 in her home state of Ohio, “because all of a sudden you’re relegated to doing something you haven’t had to do. On the other hand, we were becoming more educated about the dangers of smoking and the effect on other people, so the more educated I got, the more I understood. It went in stages, back and forth. At some point, I had become better educated about whatever was coming my way. Like, ‘Oh, we’re not going to do this on campus,’ or ‘We’re not going to do this within [20] feet of the building.’ Those things made more sense than at another time when I didn’t understand the repercussions of smoking as well. At some point, I was even glad that you were relegated to less because that caused me to smoke less. I also knew by that time that I should be stopping. So in a lot of ways, I was thankful for being in California. Whenever I went back to Ohio, it was much more lax, and so I ended up being able to smoke a lot more. Same thing when I went overseas, like I did once to France.”

Lily told me she smoked Marlboro Lights in a hard pack. Do you remember what you paid?

“No, but obviously it was growing all the time,” she said. “It sounds strange, but I always voted for the taxes on smoking, because, again, that was more incentive for me to stop.”

The clincher for Lily was a cluster of terrifying heart palpitations she began to experience in 2007. She spent several days in the hospital while doctors administered tests and monitored her vital signs.

“There’s nothing like an immediate health issue to get rid of a bad habit. And it has to be immediate. You can’t just say, ‘Well, I might get cancer sometime in the future.’ No doctor told me to stop, but suddenly, smoking was like saying I’m inviting a tachycardia, which could go into a fibrillation and kill me instantly. And why would I do that? I would be practically embracing it with open arms.”

After getting out of the hospital, Lily stopped smoking and drinking caffeine. “The doctors did not tell me to stop caffeine, either. But it’s a stimulant, too. It was actually [my boyfriend], who is well versed in chemicals and what they do to you, who said, ‘You’re going to want to stop smoking and drinking coffee.’”

Were you ever ashamed of smoking?

“Yeah, and some anger went with that. People felt — and I disapprove of this — like they could come up to you and say things about your smoking. I remember one particular episode, when I was actually outside, so there was nothing against the smoking there, and I was off to the side at a movie theater where there was an outdoor line, and I think I went to get into the line while I still had the cigarette. And this guy next to me looked over and went, ‘That’s disgusting.’ I thought, Wow, why do you have to talk to me that way? On the one hand you know that smoking is kind of a disgusting thing. So, in my mind there was a mix of anger and shame because you do know what other people think. Since I quit, I can’t always say I’ve been disgusted by smoking, but I am now, mostly by realizing the health implications. And if you’re in a crowded room and there’s a lot of smoke, not that that happens a lot, but, man, that can really get to you, to the point where it really is disgusting.”

The Corporate Center building, which faces C Street between India and Columbia Streets, gets my vote for having the best outdoor smoking reserve in San Diego. Located along Columbia, on a raised plaza in front of the building, the area is spacious and attractive, with small trees, planters, and plenty of seating and tables for eating, as well as for smoking. On the plaza’s opposite side, along India, where smoking is forbidden, nonsmokers can enjoy their lunch or coffee breaks.

Gloria, who has angular features and an easy smile, sat with me and smoked Pall Malls. She said she is “40ish” and has smoked since she was 14. She has tried to quit a “couple of times,” each lasting a few days only.

“If you go to Mexico to buy cigarettes,” Gloria said, “Customs will charge you $2 per carton to bring them back into the country. But you can buy cartons down there for $12, compared to $40 here.”

It runs into a little money after a while, right?

“Same as medication,” she said. Gloria believes smoking helps stave off anxiety and depression. “It’s the nicotine,” she said, adding, “If you haven’t had a smoke in a few hours, you’ll feel it.

“I remember walking down the street near here and a homeless person asked me if I had an extra cigarette. I didn’t, so he offered me a Vicodin [in exchange] for one. He could get medication but not cigarettes,” she says, laughing. “That was a good one.”

She tried to explain to me how smoking feels. “You have to smoke to know, but it’s kind of like a head rush, a lift. It’s nothing like alcohol. Some people get a high off of eating. I don’t.”

Do people complain about your smoking?

“If I go over and stand too close to the sidewalk, people will complain about the smoke as they walk by, not really saying things, but coughing or things like that. But then I move. I’m not a rude smoker. I’m not going to smoke in your house. I don’t smoke in my house.”

Do you know rude smokers?

“Oh, definitely. They’ll tell you to move. I do the opposite. I get out of there. It’s just common courtesy. I’m not going to smoke in somebody’s car that doesn’t smoke, or somebody’s house that doesn’t smoke, or in a restaurant. My mother used to smoke in restaurants during the 1970s. Bob’s Big Boy, I remember especially. I remember being able to smoke in restaurants, though I didn’t do it. People in other states still smoke in grocery stores and other such places. A number of people I know in those places roll their own. They buy the paper and the tobacco by the bag and the little device that rolls it. It’s a lot cheaper than buying cartons.”

Do you ever feel ashamed of smoking?

“Some people are ashamed of smoking, yes, maybe embarrassed. I’m not like that, but I’m not going to smoke around people who don’t smoke, though if I go outside to have a cigarette and they come out to talk to me, then it’s fine. I don’t infringe on you, so don’t infringe on me.

“But actually, our rights as smokers are being taken away to some extent. My mother used to tell me that when I was growing up. She’d say, ‘Next thing you know you won’t be able to walk down the street and smoke,’ and now you can’t here in certain areas, for instance Del Mar and El Cajon. You’ll get a ticket.

“In El Cajon, if you’re at a trolley stop — there’s no smoking within 25 feet, even in the parking lot, which is not even close to the stop — if you’re there in El Cajon, you’ll get a double ticket. Not only one for smoking in public, you’ll get one for smoking near the transit station. So you’ll get a $400 some-odd fine. That’s what a transit guy told me.

“As far as restaurants and nightclubs go, I have no problem going outside, but if you can’t go outside, where are you going to smoke? So you don’t even go out if you can’t smoke outside on the street.

“In certain areas of San Diego, they designate places where you can smoke and eat and drink at the same time. I live in Chula Vista, where you can’t smoke even outside at bars and restaurants. You can stand around the front door or back in the alley, but you can’t sit down, like on a little patio, to have a cigarette and, let’s say, a drink.

“If you’re going to limit where you can smoke, then you should set up designated areas every few blocks and not say you can’t smoke in the whole city, like El Cajon and Del Mar do. The residents vote on it. Living in Chula, I don’t get to vote for the mayor here in San Diego, but he affects me and my life and everything around me, since I work here in town.”

Paul, who was wearing a blue pinstriped shirt stood in front of the Merrill Lynch building on Seventh Avenue between B and C Streets. He has been smoking for 30 years. He currently smokes a pack a day.

This is an attractive smoking area, I said, noting a couple of magnolia trees outside the front door, and red flowers with yellow stars in their center. “Yes, and that’s unusual,” said Paul, who has worked in other big office buildings.

The San Diego native started smoking in high school by “going along with the crowd.” Today, he tries not to let his boss see him smoke, though the boss does know it happens.

To my question about negative feelings he might have about smoking, Paul replied: “It used to be that I could smoke in my office. My bosses smoked; everybody smoked.” He remembered the change coming in the late 1980s or early 1990s, when, on their own, managers probably began trying to free their buildings of smoke.

“Once in a while, I still get a little annoyed about having to come outside to smoke. I’m coming down from about midway up the building, four or five floors. It takes away from my work time, obviously. I try to time my breaks so they don’t affect things I’m working on.”

Are you only allowed to have a certain number of breaks per day?

“No, I’m on salary. I’ve seen that happen when people are hourly.”

How often do you come down to smoke?

“About eight times a day, once an hour. But I get a lot of business done down here.”

I imagine him outside making investment sales, but no. “It’s more just talking to people, a social thing,” said Paul, who is friendly and has a big smile. “Down here, outside the office setting, some of the guys talk about projects we’re working on together. At other jobs in the past, where the bosses smoked, we’d all go outside, and I could get approvals to move forward or draw out ideas, things like that, with my bosses. Not so much now, since a lot of them don’t smoke anymore.

“I’ve also spoken to a lot of the homeless that go walking by here. It’s been nice getting to know them, talking to them.

“I am trying to quit, which I’ve done a couple of times over the years. The longest one was two years. Several other times, I reached four or five months. My family complains.”

I asked Eric Bird, no longer a smoker, if in his business the nonsmokers complain about their colleagues using smoke breaks to get out of work. Bird is a set-up man for conventions, movies, and live entertainment venues. He used to smoke behind hotel kitchens while working.

“Actually,” he said, “when people stand around staring into space, or at a garden or sunset, they’re thought to be goofing off. If they’re standing around smoking, that’s considered normal.” ■

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More from SDReader


As an employer and manager, I simply did not hire smokers as a matter of policy. They are away from their work more, sick more and other issues. I would “smoke” them out in the interview. If I was really interested in a candidate, I would take a long time in the meeting. Ask them to go to lunch, even taking their car (sniff, sniff) and look for the signs of fidgeting. I have nothing against smokers, just smoking. :)

Ponzi: So you think those smoking employees don't give the very best? Wrong! The smokers have the very best to give.

In 2010 the U.S. government published a groundbreaking meta-analysis of studies on nicotine effects on the brain, "Meta-analysis of the acute effects of nicotine and smoking on human performance", by S J. Heishman et al. The research was supported by the (US Gov) Intramural Research Program of the NIH, National Institute on Drug Abuse, and funded by a NIH grant.

You'll never read about it in the SD Union-Tribune. The Heishman meta-analysis was reported by Niels Ipsen, environmental biologist and Klaus Kjellelrup, researcher, in "Science is conclusive: Tobacco increases work capacity", http://dengulenegl.dk/English/Nicotine.html The article gives a link in its reference list to the full-text Heishman report.

The report provides sound scientific proof that smoking and nicotine have a significant positive effect on job performance. Nicotine boosts attention, precision, motor skills, speed and memory. It makes the brain faster and more precise and gives the brain more stamina. Generally nicotine boosts the brain to work 10-30% more efficiently in a number of areas.

For example, nicotine experiments show that smokers in prolonged working situations are able to maintain concentration for many hours longer than non-smokers. It is illustrated in the trial, "The effects of cigarette smoking on overnight performance" of Parkin & Hindmarch 1997, where smokers and nonsmokers were to do five different computer tests from 8 o'clock in the evening to 12 hours later. In all tests the non-smoker concentration levels broke down after two hours - while smokers could maintain concentration until 4 o'clock in the morning thanks to the nicotine in the cigarettes.

Smokers smoke because their brains work better when they smoke. Since experimental animals in laboratories have shown similar results, there is no longer any doubt among scientists: Nicotine - the active substance in the world's most unpopular plant - the tobacco plant - is paradoxically a "wonder drug" that leads to better job performance.

Ponzi, California law prohibits you from refusing to hire a prospective employee because he smokes. It only permits you to require that he does not smoke on your time and on your property. The employer who refuses to let his smoking employee smoke on his legally required lunch break and two per shift relief breaks is putting hobbles on the smoker and dragging his job performance back to the lower level of the non-smoking employee.

I've given you a link to the actual government report. Go read it and adjust your bigotry.

This is interesting, and it might be noted that there are all sorts of studies out there that "prove" all sorts of things. I'm sure there are studies that say just the opposite. For those of us who just cannot tolerate tobacco smoke--I can't stand the smell, it makes me cough and sneeze--this new world we are in is so refreshing. When I started my career in an office about four decades ago, it seemed that a majority of fellow workers were smokers, and I was exposed to a cloud of the damn stuff all day long. My wife is even less tolerant of smoke than I, and has been made physically ill on a few occasions when trapped in a smoke-filled environment. In 1983, when I changed jobs, my new employer voluntarily decided to make its new offices smoke-free. It was like dying and going to heaven to get away from it. Now that restaurants, stores and most public places prohibit smoking, I can go out to eat or to shop, or to an athletic event without having the experience spoiled by second-hand smoke.

BTW, I didn't see "bigotry" on the part of Ponzi, just self-interest.


California has a law against firing an employee who smokes. There is no protection against discrimination in hiring them. The same way there is no protection against hiring ugly or fat people. Think about that the next time you stroll through Nordstrom or Neiman-Marcus.

A savvy employer learns the best policy is to hire “right” in the first place so you don’t have to deal with a bad choice later down the road. I stand by my principle, I feel smokers are not ideal employees and I won’t hire them.

Ponzi; "I have nothing against smokers, just smoking."


Since experimental animals in laboratories have shown similar results, there is no longer any doubt among scientists: Nicotine - the active substance in the world's most unpopular plant - the tobacco plant - is paradoxically a "wonder drug" that leads to better job performance.

LOL @ "wonder drug". I hear the dope dealers saying the same thing about meth, cocaine and herion-in fatc meth is given that label by all addicts ebfore they get addicted.

Nicotine is not a "wonder drug" and there is no such consensus as "there is no longer any doubt among scientists", that is just flat out false.

Study: smoke breaks cost thousands Study finds one smoking employee costs $12,000 Updated: Wednesday, 29 Sep 2010, 6:24 PM EDT Published : Wednesday, 29 Sep 2010, 4:06 PM EDT

Here's a study you can look up - more breaks, more illnesses - smoker's cost everyone more money!! I hope all of San Diego City goes smoke-free like El Cajon and Del Mar. I hope they tax the crap out of cigarettes so that you smokers can pay for all the healthcare you're going to need before you die some awful death. Let's make apartments smoke free too - I'm sick of my neighbors smoking all the time - right outside my window - why is that? so the smoke doesn't go into your apartment? Get the patch or chew the gum is you need a nicotine fix.

My apologies. I did not have an URL for the Heishman paper, so I routed the reader through a Danish article which contains a link, but is quite pro-smoking. Here is an URL which will take you directly to a PDF of the Heishman report, "Meta-analysis of the acute effects of nicotine and smoking on human performance". http://dengulenegl.dk/blog/wp-content/uploads/2011/02/meta-analysis-acute-effects-of-nicotine-and-smoking-on-human-performance.pdf

Visduh, it is true that there are all sort of studies out there that "prove" all sorts of opposing things. "Scientific Studies" is a massive industry and researchers pay the mortgage and send the kids through college with their salary from grants. That means that if they want to stay employed, they had better write studies that please the grantors. If in Engineering, we cherry-picked data and fudged statistics as the propaganda oriented study authors do, bridges would collapse and airplanes crash, killing hundreds of people at a whack.

It is wise to view studies with a skeptic's eye, read the study instead of the whoop-de-do news article, and check out the source of the funding.

Mamafirst: Speaking of whoop-de-do, I looked up your news article "Study: smoke breaks cost thousands: Study finds one smoking employee costs $12,000". Read the article instead of just the whoop-de-do headline. Here tis: http://www.wwlp.com/dpp/news/Study%3A-smoke-breaks-cost-thousands

Honeybun, no way does a 15-minute cigarette break four times a day tot up to $12,000 a year.

The article actually said: "According to an Action on Smoking and Health study, smokers average four 15-minute breaks a day; that's an hour of the workday spent smoking ..."

According to California law an employer is required to permit an unsalaried employee a 30 minute lunch break and two fifteen minute relief breaks per 8-hour work shift, one AM and one PM, whether the employee uses it to smoke or to stand on his head practicing yoga. So the non-smoking employee, like the smoking employee, takes two 15-minute breaks a day, anyhow. Which leaves two extra 15-minute breaks (one-half hour a workday) taken by the smoker, assuming that the Action on Smoking and Health (a propaganda mill) statement is accurate. Read the comments under the article:

"On average employees get a break every 2 hours, how hard is it to only smoke every 2 hours??? I am a smoker and I have no problem smoking only on my scheduled breaks." and

"This is stupid. It takes maybe 5 minutes to smoke a cigarette, tops, so try like 20 minutes a day ..."

If you will exert your mind and read the Heishman paper I provided you a link to, you will read that a smoker really doesn't feel a need for a cigarette until after about two hours without. And the two legal California relief breaks take care of that nicely. Many of those smokers Reporter Deegan interviewed were likely taking their regular legal twice daily 15-minute relief break.

As for the misleading headline insinuation that smoke breaks cost $12,000 per year per employee, the article actually said;

"According to the study, a single smoking employee can cost employers over $12,000 a year in added medical care costs and lost productivity."

Medical costs aren't smoke breaks. Most of the so-called "smoking related diseases" are the diseases of old age and their medical costs do not begin to accumulate until the employee is off the employers' insurance and onto Medicare. And if the employee dies soon after retirement because he is a smoker, the money remaining in his pension fund reverts back to the employer.

Really, the smoking employee is a win-win for the employer. The employer gets the benefit of the smokers' nicotine-boosted brain power, most medical costs are deferred until after the employee retires and is on Medicare, and the employer gets all that money back from retired pensioners who die early from smoking related diseases.

A clever employer should give cartons of Marlboros for Xmas.

One small correction, jsidney. Ca. law requires employees be give a 10 minute break, not 15, for each 4 hour work period or major fraction thereof, to be taken in the middle of the shift, as much as is practical, unless total hours worked s less than 31/2 hrs. Also, a lot of people don't realize that if an employer doesn't allow you to take a break at some point, you're entitled to an additional hour of pay for that work day.


The break times are not enforced uniformly across all industries. Perhaps in the more draconian companies where people punch the clock it is. But many companies do not have stringent enforcement of breaks.

I have worked in many companies where smoking breaks were observed being taken about every hour for about 10 to 15 minutes. That works out to about an hour to an hour and a half a day in addition to their lunch break.

You seem to be struggling to argue in favor of smokers. Consider this, I don’t hire them and don’t have to be concerned at all. That’s better than taking my chances.

Really, the smoking employee is a win-win for the employer. The employer gets the benefit of the smokers' nicotine-boosted brain power, most medical costs are deferred until after the employee retires and is on Medicare, and the employer gets all that money back from retired pensioners who die early from smoking related diseases.

=================== nearly every study I have seen states smokers are the opposite of your wild claims.


. http://ash.org/papers/h100.htm .

SurfPuppy: That quote was a tongue-in-cheek recommendation to our resident representative employer. His initial comment induced me to post on this thread. Providing his employees with Marlboros so they will burn their candles at both ends in his employ and then gift him with their unused pension money when they pop off early, would be very nasty indeed.

A better suggestion. Give your non-smoker employees Nicorette Gum for Xmas. Although your pension fund won't profit from their early post retirement demise, you can enjoy their nicotine-improved job performance. The improvement is somewhat attenuated because nicotine is absorbed fastest and most efficiently by inhalation into the lungs via cigarette smoke. With gum chewers, as with pipe and cigar smokers, the nicotine is taken in through the bucccal mucosa. We cigar and pipe tobacco smokers do not inhale. Less job enhancement but better mortality.

An aside. many therapeutic drugs can be absorbed more efficiently through the lungs than through the oral gastrointestinal route. We have a company here in San Diego, Alexza Pharmaceutials, which is betting the homestead on an inhaled medication system. Last year an off shore spammer on the major e-cigarette forum advertised a Cialis e-cigarette.


SurfPuppy, you are one of those people who say, "I KNOW it's true because I read it in the Union-Tribune: If the Union-Tribune prints it, it MUST be true."

I hand you a US NIH scientific report and you hand me back news releases from a rabid propaganda mill.

Look everybody! Here is the home page of SurfPuppy's information source. Shyster John Banzhaf's moneypot ASH. http://ash.org/ .

ASH is also the source of Mamafirst's contribution.

For those who are following this exchange of comments, it is easy to see that an argument is often all in the spin. jsidney takes a known health hazard and goes beyond anything Big Tobacco ever claimed. BT said cigarette smoking was harmless; jsidney claims that it is a BENEFIT! How's that for chutzpah?

From the 1950's, for at least two decades--probably longer--the cig manufacturers would finance research projects that uniformly came back with the verdict that smoking tobacco, most specifically cigarette smoking, was harmless. Finally, there was an impartial study, a very extensive one, that resulted in the 1964 Surgeon General's report that came out and said flat-footed that cigarette smoking caused lung cancer. (It didn't say it "might" or "may" or "could" cause it--it said it DID cause lung cancer.) BT still didn't give up, but they did begin to subtly alter their tactics. In the early 70's, TV advertising of tobacco was banned, and that ban is/was on shaky grounds constitutionally. But BT didn't contest it; the companies accepted it. Why? TV advertising was expensive, and they could tell it wasn't very effective. They were happy to keep the dollars in their pockets, and use less-costly and better targeted media, such as specialty magazines.

Today, while never acknowledging the hazards of cigarettes, Altria (Phillip Morris) funds campaigns to supposedly keep cigs out of the hands of kids, and those campaigns emphasize that tobacco products are not for kids. In that way, the manufacturer deflects claims that it is harming the under-18 crowd intentionally. And thus, it escapes further restrictions and outright bans.

jsidney is a new poster to this Reader website, one I've never encountered before. Don't you all wonder who he/she is, and why he/she is so pro-cigarette? I sure do.

Are the SD Reader comments restricted to anti-smokers only? You need a smidgen of diversity.

Visduh: It would require a complete article to ungarble your history, and the Reader does not pay me for comments.

In January I posted a comment on "Antismoking Law: Where Do the Smoker's Rights End?", as did Ponzi and you. http://www.sandiegoreader.com/news/20...

There are scientist, both pro-tobacco and anti-tobacco, who will whore their science to push a political agenda. (California has a plethora of the antis - two prominent ones right here in San Diego.)

Then, there are scientists who are simply "pro-truth in science".

S.J. Heishman, PhD.,is Chief of the Nicotine Psychopharmacology Section of the Intramural Research Program of the National Institute on Drug Abuse. http://irp.drugabuse.gov/heishman.html

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the principal biomedical and behavioral research agency of the United States Government. NIH is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. http://irp.drugabuse.gov/index.html

"Our Organization: Intramural Research Program (IRP) of the National Institute on Drug Abuse is dedicated to innovative research on basic mechanisms that underlie drug abuse and dependence, and to develop new methods for the treatment of drug abuse and dependence."

NOW READ THE BLOODY REPORT!!! and stop whining at me because you're uncomfortable with an inconvenient truth.

Here's another. You can link to the full text report from the abstract. "Beneficial effects of nicotine and cigarette smoking: the real, the possible and the spurious", John A. Baron. 1996. It is 14 years out of date. The Kevin Tracy group of molecular biologists have extended the knowledge by leaps and bounds since then. http://bmb.oxfordjournals.org/content/52/1/58.abstract

Why do I do this? Because I'm standing up for the underdog. Over the years I have spoken out for the Jew and the Negro and the women and the faggots and the undocumented aliens (who epitomize your "white, Protestant work ethic"). In this instance the target of your sneering comments is the smoker. You!! You with your pristine pink lungs and your lily-white lifestyle! You are the black hats, here. I AM THE WHITE HAT! I am the Lone Ranger. And you need a good kick in the self-estimation.

I feel like I'm trying to discuss the theory of relativity with a kindergarden class.

So now you hurl insults? I think you need a smoke break. You’re getting irate.

What's that in your smug, superior hand, Sniff-sniff? Are you smoking a kazoo?

Ha ha. My avatar is a picture of Charles Ponzi. The infamous con-artist and Ponzi-schemer and he is indeed smoking a cigar. I have actually smoked cigars myself on rare occasions, years ago. As I stated in my first post, I don’t dislike smokers, just smoking. And I won’t hire them for the reasons I stated.

The story behind me using the Ponzi avatar is a nod to Don Bauder’s frequent stories about con artists and Ponzi-schemers. When I first started following Mr. Bauder he was a business writer for the San Diego Union-Tribune. When he left there and started writing in the Reader, I followed him. I picked the name Ponzi and the avatar as a joke. It stuck. I’ve been using it for several years now.

It seems the SD Reader webmaster won't even let me draw pictures for the kindergarden class. My links worked when I previewed them, but they are disabled in the published comment (including the one to the January SD Reader article).

If you can bear the inconvenient truth, you can read the studies by Googling the titles.

I suffer from asthma, allergic to everthing. Cigarette smoke outdoors is not even close to irritatng me as exposure anywhere near where grass is getting cut or just been freshly cut. Everybody somewhere just has to cut the damned grass!

Some smokers look sexy when they smoke some of them even taste good I know I've kissed some of them.

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