Tuesday, June 2, 2009

No Smoking – does indoors mean outdoors?

What happens when a university chancellor can’t tell the difference between indoors and outdoors? Well, you get a student protest, a union grievance and end up looking like a schoolyard bully.

The Pennsylvania Clean Indoor Air Act went into effect on September 11, 2008. The legislation, ostensibly designed to protect non-smokers from the alleged hazards of secondhand smoke, defines a public place as "an enclosed area which serves as a workplace, commercial establishment or an area where the public is invited and permitted and included education facilities."

So when the smoking ban legislation was approved by the state legislature, Chancellor John Cavanaugh of the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education seized the moment and decreed that the system’s 14 university campuses should be smoke free, both indoors and out.

Cavanaugh figured that, although the campus wasn’t an “enclosed space”, some classes were held outdoors. Therefore, he was merely complying with the legislation by making the entire campus smoke free.

Now, there was ample time to consult with the student body and the unions representing employees before implementing the campus wide bans. But, smokers were apparently not provided an opportunity to take part in any consultations which may have taken place. And, since the campus ban was apparently imposed within hours of the act being passed in the state legislature, it suggests that some discussion of the proposed smoking ban took place before it was announced.

At any rate, some student activists at one of the university campuses, Shippenberg, protested the ban. Nothing as drastic as what might have occurred back in the sixties, mind you; no one occupied the chancellor’s office and the National Guard was not needed to restore order, but it appears there was more opposition to the ban than was anticipated by the administration.

And, at last word, smoking students had won some (dreadfully) small concessions. There will apparently be some smoking areas set aside on campus . . . outdoors, with no shelter from the wind, rain or snow. And, the weather in the Quaker state can be inhospitable at times during the school term.

But, then when you’re being treated like a dog, any bone thrown your way is welcome.

And, one of several unions representing employees at the various universities filed a grievance on behalf of their smoking members. By interpreting the new legislation as encompassing outdoor areas, employees were left without access to any area on campus where they could light up.

Last week, the state Labor Relations Board ruled in favour of the union, saying the university system committed an unfair labor practice against the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties with its interpretation of the legislation and putting the policy in place without union consultation or approval.

The contention that an outdoor, campus wide smoking ban was needed to promote a safer, healthier learning environment was simply a feeble excuse to punish smokers, whether they were members of the student body or employees of the university. It was a petty, vindictive and mean spirited attempt to force those who smoke to relinquish their freedom to choose.

Those who fought the ban have won a minor skirmish in the war on smokers, but it was a victory none-the-less.

Kenn Marshall, a spokesman for the university system, said: "We believe the action we took was still appropriate in accordance with the law." How sad.

The anti-smoker cadre will, of course, appeal. Even sadder.

1 comment:

Tom Wing said...

Nice article, my name is Tom Wing, i spearheaded that movement at Shippensburg, and i have to say, i'm glad we got a good outcome. We had hundreds of supporters, thank god we won this battle, now it's time to win the war.