Leah Horner is a journalism junior and Mustang News study abroad columnist.
Sabrina Thompson contributed to this article.
We stood outside of a pub as he lit his cigarette. It was a typical English night — wet and dreary. Despite the cold, there was still a group of 20-somethings huddled around each other with small, white rolls of paper in their hands.
Jordan Lewis, freshman at University of Brighton, was taking a break from directing the show, “A Christmas Carol.” For his break, he and three others decided to stand in the cold to smoke a cigarette.
“It’s just quite easy to smoke,” Lewis said. “If everyone else around you is smoking, it’s easy to smoke. You have so many conversations (when) you just go out for a cigarette.”
Since he was 18, Lewis has been stepping outside into the freezing cold English days to light up. This was his eighth cigarette of the day. He typically only smokes three or four a day, but the stress has been piling up.
A combination of stress and the ease of accessing cigarettes caused Lewis to start smoking. His friends always had them, so he eventually joined in, which led to a downward spiral.
“I was really stressed,” he said. “And then someone offered me a cigarette, and then I had a cigarette. And then I was really stressed, so I had a cigarette. And then I had a cigarette, and then I was smoking.”
When he was finished we went inside, back to where the cast of the show was. Someone asked what I was writing. I said where I live in California, smoking in public is illegal. The room quickly got quiet and everyone turned and stared at me with shocked looks on their faces. Multiple people repeated it over and over:
“Smoking is illegal?”
“So you can’t smoke on a sidewalk?”
“Well what about at home?”
You would think I just told them they weren’t allowed to breathe. For them, smoking is part of daily life. I then filled them in.
Smoking is illegal in public in San Luis Obispo. It was the first city in America to ban smoking in indoor public places, like restaurants and bars, in 1990. Then, in 2010, the city council took it a step further and banned smoking in public places, including sidewalks, parks and open spaces. San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx said there are still a few designated smoking areas around town, but they’re all at least five feet away from doorways. People are also allowed to smoke in their private residences. For her, this is a law that affects everyone, not just smokers.
“No one has the right to impair someone else’s health,” Marx said. “So in that case, people can be self-destructive and smoke if they want to, but when it starts impending on other people’s health, that’s when I think government regulation makes sense.”
Political Science freshman Sam Beekwilder recently moved to San Luis Obispo after spending most of his life in Amsterdam. He has visited England many times and said the smoking culture in San Luis Obispo is a whole new world. Beekwilder first tried a cigarette with his friends at age 12, and began regularly smoking at 16. Since he arrived in the U.S., people have been openly commenting on his habit.
“Everyone thinks it’s ridiculously gross and very bad for you, and I honestly can’t argue with them that it’s not,” Beekwilder said. “But it’s just a bit surprising to hear that coming from literally everyone. Because you always had like two people that would point out to you that it was bad. But not every single person.”
Beekwilder said people give him weird looks, so he has learned to avoid smoking around people to escape awkward situations.
While Marx and Beekwilder both agree smoking affects others in the immediate physical area, Marx also points out the economic impact on third parties.
“There are a lot of health problems that are caused by smoking, and tax payers pick up the tab for that illness,” she said. “So it’s expensive not only in terms of human suffering but also in financial terms.”
In England, the actors in the room said they would never be able to survive in a town like this. Smoking is part of the culture here. However, the numbers indicate their country is not very different from America.
Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) states that in 2013, 20 percent of adults in England smoked. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, shows that in 2013, 17.8 percent of adults in the U.S. smoked. The difference between the two countries seems minimal, but both Lewis and Beekwilder agree that the U.S. appears to have fewer smokers than England.
Lewis does not recommend smoking to anyone. He says it’s addictive and expensive. Personally, he smokes to relieve stress, but he realizes it’s the smoking itself that causes stress.
“You associate it so much with cutting down stress, but it’s just a vicious cycle of it cuts down on stress because it causes more stress,” Lewis said. “Not being able to smoke makes you want to smoke.”