We stubbed out office camaraderie with cigarette ban
BUSINESS LIFE:Tonight the few people left in civilised society who still smoke will be stubbing out their last gaspers and resolving to quit. Some of them may turn instead to
e-cigarettes, those funny little white cylinders of plastic and metal, which contain liquid nicotine and are being sold in ever greater quantity.
One of the great advantages of these things is that it’s perfectly legal to puff away at work. As you can’t actually light them, they don’t count as smoking. And as all they emit is a little water vapour, they aren’t even anti-social.
Yet, increasingly companies are taking the very regrettable step of banning them.
Some say they are a fire risk or that they may be harmful, but the main reason seems to be that they look too like the real thing. A spokeswoman from the British Medical Association recently complained that they set the wrong example and they renormalise the idea of smoking in offices just when everyone had succeeded in making it seem freakish.
It is for that very reason – the similarity to a real cigarette and the way they normalise the idea of smoking at work – that I’m strongly in favour of people puffing away on them in the office.
Constitutionally, I’m no libertarian. I approve of employers banning things and issuing draconian rules and regulations, and I’m hoping that 2013 will see a lot more of them. Dress codes, fixed hours of work, Facebook bans – all these are excellent ideas. Rules are much less tiring than grey areas; they free you from fretting about small things and allow you to save your creative energy for things that matter.
But with these fake fags, it’s different. Here at last is a way of getting back something that we lost on that day five years ago when the last office smoker was hounded out through the revolving doors to puff away on the pavement outside.
I’m not saying that we should bring those days back. Clearly we can’t let people slowly kill their colleagues by blowing poisonous fumes at them. But, by focusing exclusively on the fact that smoking kills, we have forgotten that it was also one of the most useful rituals that offices have ever seen.
Smoking was the most reliable and most powerful way of bonding that anyone has yet found. The simple act of lighting someone else’s cigarette, of offering a pack around or chatting for just the time it takes to smoke one created a good feeling that lasted about as long as the tar sits in your lungs.