by Mary Lyle
The smoking shelters at Whatcom Community College are constantly crowded hang out spots. Whether you’re quickly passing by, holding your breath to avoid the cloud of cigarette smoke, or are habitually among the packed group of people huddled inside the glass hut, chances are you are already pretty familiar with at least one shelter.
How could you not be?
It’s situated directly in the path of two of the most trafficked doors of Whatcom that connect the Student Syre Center and Laidlaw building.
“Smoking is a social interest,” says Scott Hutchinson, an everyday regular of the smoking shelter.
“There’s no awkward tension when you strike up a conversation with someone like there is everywhere else on campus,” Hutchinson said as he smoked a cigarette among his smoking-shelter friends. He said the shelter provided a “more interesting, and wider variety of people to talk with”. He remembered walking up to the shelter when he first came to the college and finding everyone to be friendly. That’s how he met his first acquaintances at school, he said.
Adam Gaines, a friend of Hutchinson’s, is another regular to the smoking shelter. Gaines, whom a Whatcom student might recognize as the one who puffs on a tobacco pipe at the shack rather than a typical cigarette, said that many of the smoking shelter regulars have established nicknames. “Choonauck is my given nickname,” says Gaines. “Choonauck with three apostrophes at the end.”
Farron Dowdy is another Whatcom student who visits the shelter between every class. She said she dislikes that the smoking shelter “smells like a five year old cig,” and can’t stand the “loud annoying people” that hang around.
“Since I go pretty much at the same time every day, I see a lot of the same people,” Dowdy said. “If I have the same class with them I will sit with them.”
“I’ve seen people smoke a hookah in there and I’ve seen people pass out and puke in them,” says Dowdy. Students puking and smoking hookah isn’t an everyday occurrence in the shack, but you can catch some pretty out of the ordinary situations, she adds.
Not everyone who hangs out at the smoking shelter smokes. Students are seen playing guitar, card games, listening to music, and just hanging around for good conversation.
“We get dirty looks from people,” says Hutchinson. “Smoking can bring a stigma for non smokers.”
Some students have heard rumors that Whatcom could turn into a “non-smoking campus.” Brian Keeley, Whatcom’s facilities director, says “at this point in time there is not a ‘smoke free’ policy for Whatcom in the works.” An idea to survey students on their opinions of smoking on campus has been brought up, but there is no current plan on the matter, he added.
Keeley was not working at Whatcom when the shelter was placed, but the site was chosen because it was “convenient for students, but still keeps them away from all of the students who don’t smoke.” It exceeds the law that people cannot smoke within 25 feet from a doorway, but is “still kind of an inconvenient place for non-smokers to pass,” he said.
Nick Santini, a Whatcom student who uses the smoking shelter, thinks the shelter needs to be bigger and around the Student Syre Center so it isn’t directly in the middle of campus. “I don’t want to be blowing smoke into people’s faces that walk by,” says Santini. “And you don’t really want to be right next to someone so close smoking a cigarette either.”
Santini also says that the shelter “definitely has some engineering problems, and could use some vents.” When it rains and everyone is huddled into the shelter smoking cigarettes, it gets “musty and too smokey.”
Scott Hutchinson also noted that non-smokers in the shelter get second-hand smoke. “I will offer them a cigarette and they will say ‘I don’t smoke,” he said. “But really they are smoking because of how thick the smoke can get.”