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The Smoker’s Corner.

I assume most schools have one. I know the high school I went to certainly did because students were not allowed to smoke on school property. Just past the boundary line, was a place where students could gather, mingle, have a smoke, and get caught up on school gossip.

One day, after lunch, I went to the classroom early, because I was on crutches at the time and wanted to avoid the rush. Our teacher who was an older gentleman, approaching retirement, was standing looking out the window and watching everyone at the smoker’s corner. He was a nice guy and we got along. He mused aloud “The smoker’s corner is a barometer for the morale and stress level of the school and its students. You can judge it by seeing how many students are out there and by how long they stay.”

I think he may have been on to something. There are smokers’ corners scattered all around Yellowknife. They show up wherever people are banned from smoking on some property, in an office, store, or facility. You can easily spot them because of all the cigarette butts that end up on the ground.

It would be an interesting exercise in urban geography to map them all. Also, if you counted all the butts, that might be an indication of how stressed people are because that is a major cause of smoking, stress. So, it is ironic that the way governments work and do things, causes a lot of the stress in people’s lives, and causes them to smoke more.

As a student, regardless of the weather or the season, if you wanted to talk openly to your friends or to have a smoke you had to go outside and walk over to the smoker’s corner. Meanwhile the teachers, back then, could smoke in the teachers’ lounge.

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Unfortunately, a lot of smokers just throw their butts on the ground. It is littering and a form of pollution. When I smoked, I used a pocket ashtray, even in the bush, because that was one way to make sure my butts did not start any forest fires.

If you happen to walk the Frame Lake Trail and walk by the corner where it passes the hospital and meets Byrne Road, you will see not hundreds but thousands of cigarette butts. I was horrified when I saw it this year. Butts everywhere. If that is any indication of the morale of those working at or visiting the hospital, then that is a problem indeed.

I know that a lot of people have seen or walked by this spot. Possibly even an MLA or city councillor or two. Maybe a bylaw officer or an environmentalist. Surely, we have a few environmental crusaders in town. Yet, no one seems to be doing anything about it. Also, it is a prime example of how both the city and the GNWT turn a blind eye to littering and pollution. As I understand it, cigarette filters are made of plastics and end up as those little balls and fragments of plastic that get in our water, food and are slowly covering the planet in plastic. The nicotine from all of those butts is also a poison that gets into our environment.

One solution would be to give the workers and patients a decent place to smoke, preferably on the hospital grounds. This should apply to most office buildings and facilities in town. For those who must go out, give them a pocket ashtray, and enforce the litter bylaw. No butts on the ground, particularly lit ones during forest fire season.

I occasionally dream the impossible dream, that someday governments will start to solve problems rather than creating them. The way things are, is obviously not working well, so why not try doing things differently. More humanly. Let’s thinks about ways to lower people’s stress levels and then people will smoke and litter less. Why not give it a try? Who knows it might make things a whole lot better.

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