Hazel was frustrated. She had been out in the courtyard all morning tending to the flower beds, only to find that they had somehow morphed into permanent homes for cigarette butts. The more she raked at the mulch to gather them, the more she seemed to dig up. There were layers and layers of discarded cigarette debris, and she had a hard time believing that so much could accumulate in such a short period of time.
As she worked, residents, staff and visitors gathered to smoke. They didn’t seem to notice what Hazel was doing, nonchalantly flicking their finished cigarettes into the bushes or planters. Hazel politely asked them to stop, pointing out that she was unable to tend to the gardens properly with their butts everywhere. They would apologize, and make half-hearted attempts to stoop and pick up their garbage. They made the excuse that the courtyard lacked smoking receptacles and grumbled on about how hard it was to enjoy a smoke these days. Hazel wondered then if they were even allowed to smoke in the courtyard. A few of the smokers let her know that everyone was being asked to move their smoking from the front of the building because they were in violation of regulations and community policies. The courtyard was the closest place to smoke according to the “five meters away from the building” regulation.
Hazel decided that it was best to take the issue up with the Site Manager. “It has become a real problem,” Hazel explained. “Residents go out to the courtyard for fresh air and to walk around. Now it’s being overrun by the smokers and they are leaving their butts everywhere.” The site manager was apologetic but, at the outset of the conversation, had very little solutions. “Everyone is free to enjoy the courtyard, and unfortunately, it is one of the only areas the smokers have without having to leave the grounds completely. We are doing our best to find answers that will make everyone happy, without taking away people’s choices.” Hazel just shook her head. “Even the daycare children will sometimes come out to play games and do outdoor reading. It is not healthy for them, and while residents might not know better, certainly your own staff should!”
Hazel’s last comment struck a chord. She could tell the manager was not pleased. “I will certainly be talking to the staff about the issue. You’re right Mrs. Stewart, we do need to think about everyone’s health.” Hazel continued, “And I don’t mean to create more problems, but a group of us gardeners have done a lot of work out there to make everything look nice. We planted all the beds ourselves. We even hauled in the flowers, mulch and peat moss for all the urn planters you see out there.” The site manager gasped! “Peat moss?! Oh no, you shouldn’t be using peat moss. It’s highly flammable! Two years ago, a building on the other side of the city went up in flames. The investigators found out that peat moss had been the main source of fuel for the fire. I told the gardening group they couldn’t use it!”
Oh dear, Hazel thought. She hadn’t meant to cause such a big problem. What was supposed to be a simple conversation about moving the smokers elsewhere had turned into more gardening work for her and her friends. They were going to have to dig everything out and replant most of the planters, all because people were using them as ashtrays. She was having a hard time thinking that somehow, the smokers had more rights in the courtyard than the ladies who worked on beautifying it. Hazel felt very defeated.
Smoking in congregate living settings is a very contentious issue. While many communities are working on smoking cessation policies, or have created smoke-free housing, situations like the one discussed in this week’s issue still exist.
What are your thoughts on the issue? What should the manager do? What should the residents do? Share your comments below!