Kim Mosley was a Professor of Art who eventually became Dean of the Liberal Arts Division at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley. He was employed there from 1975 through 2007, when he left and moved to Austin, TX.
In the early years smoking was allowed in all campus buildings, as was the norm in workplaces back then. But by 1988 Kim Mosley had had enough and decided to take action against secondhand smoke pollution at work. With perseverance and some unusual methods (inspired by Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience), he succeeded in obtaining a healthier school environment, as he describes in the following account.
Kim Mosley – adapted from a talk given at St. Lukes Hospital on November 16th, 1988 during a “Get the Smoke Out” seminar.
One day I said ‘No’
Men and women have a long history of altering their environment. From the paleolithic times when they would start a fire to drive animals into a certain area to hunt them, they have altered the food chain and depleted the soil. Consciousness of the environment started early as well, with laws being enacted in the Middle East that potters and metalsmiths take their workshops out of the cities because of the dirty smoke that they produced. Yesterday I questioned the cigar smoking man who refills the Pepsi machine, “Did you know that your cigar stinks up whatever building you go into?” “No,” he answered.
A friend* was going to accompany me to a meeting for non-smokers where I was giving this talk. He wanted to share his concern about smoke pollution, but his wife called to tell me that he wouldn’t be able to come. She explained that his sister in England had just died of lung cancer. He had called his wife from England to give me a message to convey to the group – we are all working towards the same goal – the elimination of senseless premature deaths.
Monday I ate lunch with a number of colleagues, one of whom lit up a cigarette. Did she know, I wondered, about the effect this cigarette was having on our bodies and our environment? If not, should she be teaching in a college? If she did know, and still had no regard for our health, should she be teaching in a college?
My work environment was smoke-filled. Frequently, I had a sore throat, a cough, and a running nose, in spite of many years of allergy shots. Finally I decided that I would no longer work in this abusive environment. This was an absolute in my mind. It was only a matter of how.
With the support and advice of Martin Pion of Missouri GASP, I sent around a survey to the faculty and students of the Humanities Building at St. Louis Community College at Florissant Valley. All but one of the faculty and many of our students signed it.
We submitted it to the acting President, who denied our request on the basis that his tenure would soon be over, and he didn’t want to make a decision that soon could be reversed.
We decided to wait until he left, and until our new President had not quite come aboard. Then I proceeded, upon the urging of my immediate boss, to remove the ashtrays in the building, and to plaster the walls with No Smoking signs.
This sent the maintenance people, and a certain smoking administrator, into a tizzy. The maintenance people claimed that there was no way we could hold classes without ashtrays. The administrator claimed that we were abusing students by not letting them smoke.
A meeting was arranged between my immediate boss, the Associate Dean, the administrator in question, and the new President. Luckily the President had the sense to realize that this was a majority decision of the users of our building and agreed to uphold our “mutiny.” Within a few months we got a few of our ashtrays installed on the outside of our building, and the smoking students set up shop outside to shorten their lives.
The President did comment in passing that, had we not gone ahead and done this on our own, he would not have let us do it. This was obviously a risky means, one that I would not have done without the urging of my immediate superior. The point is that I had decided that I was no longer going to tolerate abusive behavior, and I would take every opportunity to stop it.
For instance, I pointed out to the President that the bookstore sold cigarettes, and asked if he was aware of that. He wasn’t, and soon the cigarettes were taken off the shelves and out of the vending machines.
Also upon my urging through the Environmental Health and Safety Committee, of which I am a member, he has now asked all campus committees to address the smoking issue at the first meeting of the new year. Now we are asking him to do the same for all groups meeting on campus.
The battle is not over. I teach one class in another building which allows smoking. After speaking with some of the faculty in that building, the Associate Dean in charge has requested to the President that his building be also deemed “smokefree.” So far, the request has sat on the President’s desk without any action. In the meantime, since I am in charge of scheduling classes, I can and will choose to teach in “smokefree” buildings until things change.
I’ve put notices in the faculty Newsnotes that I have No Smoking signs available. The requests have been overwhelming from all over campus. People are speaking out for cleaning the air in their immediate areas. They are starting to realize that they can say “No.” Even my office mate put a sign on the front door of his house to greet his wife, a smoking nurse, when she came home.
There are certainly more battles left in the war against smoking. My kids bring the smoke of the tennis club to the car after their “good healthy exercise.” People still smoke in the grocery store, even with the Thank You for Not Smoking sign on the door.
On Monday, I had talked to my mom on the phone. The day before she had told a good friend that she would no longer go to her house because she couldn’t take the smoke. My mom also mentioned that the woman’s husband, an asthmatic, couldn’t take the smoke either. The woman replied that she wanted to quit smoking anyway and now she really had a reason.
Was my mom being mean, cruel, and thoughtless? I don’t think so. But how about the husband, passively enduring the gradual destruction of both his wife and himself? Was he a gentleman, or a coward, or worse yet, a co-conspirator in polite genocide?
The message which I hope to convey to our students and to you is that we don’t have to put up with situations that seem wrong. The first step is to say “No.” The second is to sit down and work out a strategy. The third, sometimes trying a succession of strategies, is to pursue relentlessly.
You’ll become a broken record – repeating yourself over and over and over again. You’ll make some enemies (and some friends). You’ll find that often even your allies will not stand up and speak out in your defense. You’ll wonder at times, is it really worth it? But when you start winning the little battles, your rewards will be both that sensuous deep whiff of clean air and the fact that you made a difference.
*I believe that Kim is referring to me in his presentation above when he refers to “A friend.” I was not able to attend with Kim because I had gone to England to be with my sister and only sibling, Lilian, who was dying of lung cancer. I’ve written about it elsewhere on this blog. Today, November 11th, 2017, happens to be the anniversary of the day in 1988 on which she died, which I attribute to her secondhand smoke exposure. (Please see the following blog for a short memorium: Remembering my late sister, Lilian, which also links to a longer blog if of interest.)