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Clean Air Zones

Judith Hanna

It's good that most conventions these days are declaring at least some non-smoking areas - usually by dividing their main programme hall(s) into "smoking" and "non-smoking" blocks. Points to note if this is to be effective, not an empty gesture towards good intentions:

  1. NOTICES ARE ESSENTIAL. An announcement made at at the beginning of a programme item, even of every programme item, is not enough. People either miss the announcements, don't listen, or plain forget.
  2. Ask the hotel not to put ashtrays in non-smoking areas. Smokers, seeing an ashtray, assume its ok to light up and use it.
  3. Check which way the smoke blows in a hall before you decide which side to put the smokers. It's no good putting us asthmatics, bronchitics, allergics and assorted health nuts downwind of the chimneys.

Checking that function rooms in a hotel have adequate ventilation benefits everybody who'll be at the con. If a room is not adequately ventilated (as the Pine suite fan bar at Novacon 15 was not) it might be doing everyone a favour to ask people to smoke outside it, rather than in it. By the end of Novacon I couldn't put my head inside it without instant chest pains.

Not having to worry about one of your neighbours lighting up during a programme item certainly makes it posslble to sit through panels and talks. But there's more to a convention than the programme. Conventions are for sitting around in a bar or lounge talking to people.

At Novacon 15 I found it impossible to stay in either bar because the smoke was so thick. Even given the small size of the Pine Suite, this must be due to poor ventilation (most people seemed to be complaining that their rooms and the whole hotel were overheated). The bar fug that is normally simply uncomfortable became unbearable. I doubt that any convention committee needs to be told that most people don't smoke. Both smokers and those like me, Hazel Langford, Ro Pardoe, Roz Kaveney, John D Owen (to name those I remember having said that the reason they're so little seen at cons is because of the impossibility of participating without being made ill by smoke) are minorities. At the moment the latter, "non-smoking" minority is driven away from cons because we cannot both socialise and stay healthy. (A hangover inflicted on yourslf for the pleasure of a boozy evening is not the same as suffering because of someone else's nicotine hit).

What's the solution? Pam Wells, herself a smoker, thought it might be possible for Mexicon II to divide the fan bar area into a "smokers" area and a "clean air zone" where smokers too could escape the fug between fags. With a large room, dividing it in the same way as a programme hall would work. But a small room might need gale force ventilation to keep the smoke at bay, and that would not be comfortable for any one. Until a variety of possible arrangements have been tried out, we won't know what works best.

Though it's only a few of us who get militant about smoke-filled air, everybody would benefit from "clean-air zones" in the socialising space at conventions.

(("Hear, hear" says the editor in the corner, holding his breath as yet another insensitive cretin lights up a cancer stick in his vicinity. I'm very glad Judith wrote that article: it's a condemnation of the effect smoking has on a convention but suggests positive measures to alleviate the problem. If I'd written it there would have been little positive about it: a Nurumberg rally would seem well balanced compared to my views on smoking and smokers (or scum as I affectionaltely call them.) Yes, if you think that Conrunner will be acting as a forum for one of the lengthy debates on smoking that other zines have had over the years you are wrong: there is a strict (as of now) editorial policy of blind prejudice against anyone supporting smoking. OK, I know that as a confirmed liberal and responsible conrunner I should always take a balanced view and accomodate wherever possible, but I'm afraid that nicotine triggers the Nazi in me! So, if you want to write and suggest ways of eliminating smoke from conventions, good. If you want to defend the indefensible, don't bother. End of rant!!))


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This page updated on 09 July 1999