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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?”

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Ponzi March 17, 2011 @ 9:19 a.m.

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. :)


jsidney March 21, 2011 @ 3:14 a.m.

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/Nicotin...">http://dengulenegl.dk/English/Nicotin... 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.


Visduh March 21, 2011 @ 10:11 a.m.

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.


Ponzi March 24, 2011 @ 7:49 a.m.


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.


jsidney March 24, 2011 @ 4:55 p.m.

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



SurfPuppy619 March 24, 2011 @ 9:49 p.m.

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.


mamafirst March 21, 2011 @ 1:26 p.m.

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.


jsidney March 21, 2011 @ 10:43 p.m.

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...">http://dengulenegl.dk/blog/wp-content...

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.


jsidney March 21, 2011 @ 11:10 p.m.

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...">http://www.wwlp.com/dpp/news/Study%3A...

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.


tomjohnston March 23, 2011 @ 9:08 a.m.

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.


Ponzi March 24, 2011 @ 7:55 a.m.


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.


SurfPuppy619 March 24, 2011 @ 9:55 p.m.

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


jsidney March 25, 2011 @ 8:04 a.m.

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/">http://ash.org/ .

ASH is also the source of Mamafirst's contribution.


Visduh March 22, 2011 @ 3:24 p.m.

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.


jsidney March 23, 2011 @ 4:50 a.m.

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


jsidney March 23, 2011 @ 3:16 a.m.

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..." rel="nofollow">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">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">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...">http://bmb.oxfordjournals.org/content...

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.


Ponzi March 24, 2011 @ 7:58 a.m.

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


jsidney March 24, 2011 @ 9:59 a.m.

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


Ponzi March 24, 2011 @ 11:06 a.m.

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.


jsidney March 23, 2011 @ 4:29 a.m.

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.


DX March 24, 2011 @ 8:52 a.m.

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!


4k9dk1h5e0a3s6m2fr7l8b4w7g6z2p April 9, 2011 @ 10:27 a.m.

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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