You'll never smoke alone

They smell, they keep taking breaks and, worst of all, they bond. But the latest thinking is that smokers' networking can benefit everyone, reports Bill Saunders

Nobody loves a smoker - quite literally. The up-market dating agencies are doing everything to discourage smokers from signing up with them. "It is something we have to be very firm about at the first interview," says a consultant at Drawing Down The Moon, a highly exclusive introduction agency.

Not even smokers want to meet other smokers, because, as soon as they are swept off their feet, they intend to give up. When not even the lonely hearts club will have you, you really are officially sad.

Nevertheless, in spite of their limited opportunities for breeding, smokers are still with us. The National Statistics Office's General Household Survey (1996) shows that while smoking has declined dramatically, that decline has levelled off. We are down to the hardcore now, but that hardcore is still recruiting. The highest proportion of smokers is found amongst those in their early twenties, and the number of women smokers is rising slightly. Contrary to the myths, the employed are more likely to smoke than the unemployed. And that leaves workplaces with a political hot potato with the potential to make ordinary office politics look like small fry.

With over 20 per cent of people at managerial level smoking, smokers remain a significant minority in the offices they share with the 40 per cent of the population who has never smoked and the 32 per cent of men and the 20 per cent of women who are ex-smokers. (Figures for people who only smoke other people's cigarettes in the pub do not appear to be available.)

These days, you'd be hard pressed to find an office where smoking is tolerated without question, though there are those offices - such as those of some newspapers - where an uneasy truce has been arrived at and local, desk-by-desk rules prevail. But although smokers almost universally accept they must now take their habit outside, this in itself is a cause of friction. A recent survey conducted by Nicorette, the nicotine patch people (whose investigation was no doubt entirely inspired by disinterested scientific curiosity), discovered that even the abject surrender of smokers is not enough for their colleagues. 45 per cent thought smokers should have their pay docked for their five-minute absences and 58 per cent thought that smokers hanging around the doorway was bad for their company's image.

A glance down any alley in any city during business hours will confirm the impression that smoking bans are now the norm, but hard evidence on the extent of smoke free workplaces is hard to gather. Interestingly enough, what little there is indicates the trend may have peaked. FOREST, the campaign group for smokers' freedom, report that hospitals, which pioneered smoke-free building policies a decade ago, are starting to relent and reintroduce designated smoking areas. "Having experienced the problems created by prohibition at first hand, personnel managers have put pressure on medical managers to adopt a more flexible approach," according to FOREST.

Yet smoke-free buildings march on, and the policy is spreading into places of entertainment. When the newly refurbished Sadlers Wells Theatre reopens in London on 12 October it will be smoke-free. Or smoke-free as far as the public is concerned. Behind the scenes there will be a smoking room for the dancers. A spokeswoman for the theatre explains the concession has been made because, while the public will only spend two hours in the building at the most, the dancers are there day and night and spend much of their time on the premises in fancy dress. They cannot go out in costume and it might be disappointing if they did. The sight of Giselle puffing her lungs out on the pavement during the interval would let too much daylight in on the magic. "The fact is that lots of dancers do smoke" she says. "Actors, too," she adds.

And there is one of the understated problems of smoking. Yes, we all know Humphrey Bogart died of lung cancer, but smoking remains associated with the bohemian, the creative, the glamourous. The association remains because it is founded on truth. Nobody in artistic circles waves their hands and starts coughing pointedly when someone lights up. Wild woman Tracey Emin will not touch caffeine, "as bad as cocaine" in her opinion, but she is often to be seen with a pack of Marlboro Lights in her Waterloo Road Gallery. The Groucho Club's attempt to introduce a non-smoking room failed dismally: however crowded the rest of the club, nobody went in there.

Models are notorious for smoking, too. A spokeswoman for supermodel agency Storm concedes that many of the girls who come to them are smokers and that the proportion is on the increase. She attributes this to demographic trends rather than any spurious glamour. "Models are getting younger," she says, "and more young girls are smoking." It is a trend Storm deplores, she adds, and she wants it to be a matter of public record that the agency regards smoking as "a disgusting habit". Their own smoking policy is draconian. Nobody is allowed to smoke within ten metres of the building. So if you see someone exceptionally good looking wandering Covent Garden in the rain with a fag in their hand, you'll know where they work.

Does anybody have a good word for smokers and their habit? Well, yes, sort of. Melissa Golding is a personnel manager with Emap Elan. the publishing company responsible for such glamour bibles as Elle and FHM. Like everyone else, she is not happy with the image that smokers in the doorway reflect on the company. Long ago, Emap Elan had a smoking room, "but it became so disgusting that not even the smokers would go in there," she says (though yellow walls and permanent fug have, as yet, failed to deter those here at the Independent). In any case, her company's recent move to Shaftesbury Avenue makes it unlikely that it will dedicate highly expensive office space to a smoking room in the near future.

Nevertheless, from the personnel point of view there is a bonus to be gained from smokers huddling in the doorway: smokers network. In a publishing company, for example, says Melissa Golding, employees tend to identify with the magazine they work for rather than the organisation as a whole. Informal smoking breaks are the perfect way for people to make friends across titles.

Furthermore, relationships within magazines are not always harmonious. There is usually a traditional and ill-tempered hostility between journalists and advertising sales staff which is only tempered by a mutual loathing of the promotions department. Journalists think the advertising people would sell their own souls, the advertising people believe the journalists already have. (Incidentally, this is why landing a job in advertising sales on a publication is the worst possible way to attempt to break into journalism. You may be forgiven for the odd armed robbery in your past, but for selling Classified: never).

While Melissa Golding acknowledges that life has not always been sweetness and light in the publishing industry as a whole, this culture is rapidly changing at Emap Elan. Different departments are brought together for strategy days to promote team working. But, asked if the friendships struck up smoking in the street are helping matters, she replies with an enthusiastic "Definitely". When you have stood squeezed shoulder to shoulder with someone with your backs against plate glass in the sheeting rain, you form a bond.

In the United States, the problems of communication between the different departments of organisations are beginning to be taken very seriously. The trend for impersonal hot-desking, where employees do not necessarily sit in the same place every day, is on the wane. Imaginative human resources departments are steering corporations towards informal office design. Sofas are placed in corridors, chairs by water coolers, to encourage interaction. But a minority of their workforce is already way ahead of them, perched uncomfortably on fire escapes, sharing umbrellas, or walking the streets together. Despite the rebellious image, smokers have yet to unite, but under the prohibition of smoking they have unwittingly been united. Ironically, the most despised section of the workforce appears to be at the forefront of the most innovative way of working.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

    £18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

    Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

    £40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

    £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

    £20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

    Day In a Page

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory