Power Plant Grows Up in Smoke

I chalked it up to being a trouble maker when someone approached me in the electric shop one day to ask me if I would be an “Advocate of Change”.  I figured this person asked me either because he thought I couldn’t resist fighting for a cause, or because he thought he might enjoy watching me make a fool out of myself.  Either way, I accepted the challenge.

Last night I was watching TV with my son.  We decided to watch a show where “If we weren’t careful, we might learn something.”  It was a cartoon from my childhood called “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids”.  The episode was called “Smoke gets in your Hair”.  The main theme was about the health hazards from smoking cigarettes.  Nothing like Educational TV on a Friday Night.  I told my son I had a Power Plant Story about that…

Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids

Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids

The coal-fired Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma had recently made a change to the “Smoking Policy” at the power plant.  New rules went in place that restricted smoking in the office areas.  Specifically, it made any area that had a lower ceiling and was enclosed off limit to smokers.

This may seem like a normal restriction today, but this was January, 1990.  Before that, smoking in an office was not out of the ordinary.  In fact, in the A foreman’s office there was such a stink about not allowing smoking that a compromise was reached (at least for a while) where probes were mounted on the ceiling that was supposed to clean the smoke out of the air by ionizing the particles, causing them to stick to the walls and ceiling, and floor, and…. well… and you…

Smoke Ionizer

Smoke Ionizer

This became evident a few months later when the walls began turning darker and the ceiling tiles turned from white to a smoky shade of gray.

The company offered smoking cessation classes for anyone who wanted to quit smoking.  I think as a whole, our medical insurance rates went down if we took these measures.  Back then, it was common to have an ashtray in every office and on the break room tables.  It seems rather odd now to think about it after living in an “anti-smoking” culture for the past 25 years.

A few years earlier there was an electrician that had tried to make the electric shop a No Smoking area.  At that time, there were 5 electricians that smoked as well as our A foreman Bill Bennett, who often came to the electric shop for his smoke break.  Bill Bennett had made it clear then that the electric shop was going to remain a smoking area.  Just not in the office or the lab.

Times had changed by 1991.  Three smokers had retired and Diana Brien had just declared that her New Year’s resolution was that this time she was going to give up smoking for good.  She had tried that a few times before, but with the encouragement from Bill, the first time a stressful situation came around, she would start back up again.

I think my fellow electrician had seen that this was the perfect opportunity to try again to make the electric shop a “No Smoking” area.  With Dee giving up cigarettes, this left only Mike Rose as the only smoker in the electric shop.  — Well… and Bill Bennett, but technically his office was upstairs in the main office area.

Mike Rose was not just a smoker.  He was an avid smoker.  When I was watching Fat Albert, there was a father of one of the characters that was a smoker.  He coughed a lot, and at one point, went on a coughing jag.  When I saw that, I turned to my son, and I said, “That’s when Mike Rose would reach for a cigarette.”

Mike Rose.  A fair plant electrician, but a great family man!

Mike Rose

I used to marvel at how after having a coughing jag, barely able to catch his breath, the first thing Mike Rose would do while leaning against the counter was reach in his vest pocket and pull out a pack of cigarettes and quickly light up. — All that stress from coughing…

So, with Dee on the wagon, and only Mike on the verge of keeling over any moment from…. well…. it wasn’t only smoking that made Mike teeter…  I approached Bill Bennett and told him that I thought that it was time that we made the electric shop a “No Smoking” area.  Bill replied right back that it would be over his dead body before the electric shop before the electric shop would be a “No Smoking” area.

I pointed out that Dee had just decided to quit smoking and that left only Mike Rose as a smoker in the shop.  Bill said, it still wouldn’t be fair to the smokers in the shop.  I had polled the electricians, and there were at least 5 people would like the shop to be smoke-free.  So, with only one smoker, and 5 that would rather not have smoking, what was more fair?

Bill refused to give in, so I told him I would take it to Tom Gibson, our Electrical Supervisor (Bill’s boss).  Bill said, “Ok, but I’m not going to bend on this one.”  Bill was a chain smoker, and I didn’t really expect him to agree, but this was only the first step.

I had found in the past that in dealing with Tom Gibson, it is best to have some facts in your back pocket.  It didn’t do any good to just go up there and whine about something.  So, I signed up with a group called “Oklahoma Smoke-Free Coalition”.

Smoke Free Oklahoma Button

Smoke Free Oklahoma Button

I called them (this was before the World Wide Web had become popular) and asked them if they could send me some information about the problems with second-hand smoke.  I told them what I was trying to do, and they said they would send me some pamphlets about the hazards of smoking with statistics.  I was surprised a week later when I received, not only a few pamphlets but a large tube with anti-smoking posters.  I hung one up in the electric shop and would change it out each week.

One poster showed the lungs of a healthy person, then the lungs of a smoker, then the lungs of someone who had quit smoking for 10 years, to show that if you gave up smoking and lived long enough, you could clear yourself up after a while.  I had 25 posters, so, I thought I could put one up a week for 6 months.

Signing up with the Oklahoma Smoke Free Coalition was a strange step for me.  It gave me a strange feeling because I am normally a very conservative person who doesn’t believe in restricting individual rights whenever feasible.  I believe that people should have the right to smoke cigarettes, even though I don’t like it when people smoke around me.

The problem I have with smoking is that, it’s not just an individual smoking their own cigarette.  When someone smokes in a room, they are imposing their smoke on everyone else.  I believe in the individual having the right to breathe smoke free air and they shouldn’t have to leave a room just because someone else comes in there with a lit cigarette.

I understood that a lot of the people that are active in groups like “Oklahoma Smoke-Free Coalition” have a  liberal agenda to curb individual rights in a large range of areas.  So, I felt I was straddling a fence that made me uneasy.  I resolved to keep this effort focused on one thing….  making the electric shop a smoke free area.

Armed with some statistics about the hazards of breathing second hand smoke, I went to Tom Gibson’s office to make my stand… (well, to ask the question anyway).  I told Tom about the situation in the electric shop.  I explained that Mike Rose was the only “current” smoker in the shop and I listed the names of the people in the shop that would rather have a smoke free shop.

I told him that even though we had a high ceiling, which had made our shop exempt from the “Smoke Free” office policy, we still felt as if we were in an enclosed room.  The air supply for the office and lab was in the shop, and when people smoked in the shop, the smoke ended up in the office area.  I mentioned some statistics about how second hand smoke could be dangerous.  I also told him I was prepared to take this all the way to Corporate Headquarters if necessary.

To my surprise, Tom didn’t push back.  I told him that I had talked to Bill and that he refused to let the shop be smoke free.  So, Tom said that he would talk to Bill about it. — Not wanting to lose any time, I asked Tom if we could order some No Smoking signs to put on the doors in the shop.  He agreed.

Signs placed on the electric shop doors

Signs placed on the electric shop doors

I was in a hurry to get this done because I knew that any day now, Dee would be back to smoking again, and then I would lose all the leverage I had with only having one smoker in the shop.  Even Dee had said that she would support a smoke free shop if that’s what we wanted.  So, it really came down to Mike and Bill.

More than 20 years later, Oklahoma is still fighting the smoking fight.  Mary Fallin, the Governor of the State, has said that she supports cities and towns crafting their own anti-smoking laws.  Coming from a Conservative Governor, I feel like I was in good company when fighting for the shop to become smoke free.

I know a few people at the plant were upset with me for restricting their right to smoke in the electric shop.  Well, they knew I was a troublemaker when they hired me…

Now it seems like the culture in the United States has shifted so that we recognize the rights of individuals are actually impaired by someone smoking in your face.  Sometimes I can just pass a smoker walking down the side walk, and my clothes smell like cigarette smoke the rest of the day.

I think that either noses become more aware of cigarette smoke when you don’t breathe it every day, or the cigarette companies put something in the cigarette to make the smell stronger than before.  Today, I can sit in my car with my windows up, and if a car is in front or alongside me at an intersection while we are waiting for the light to change, I can smell the cigarette being smoked in another car.

It’s not just me, my son can smell it too.  We can usually smell the cigarette before we see the person smoking it.  One of us will say…. “Someone’s smoking.”  And we’ll whip our heads around looking for the car.  I guess our noses are more sensitive these days.

I know this phenomenon hasn’t reached Europe like it has in the United States.  When visiting there, it is like being back in the 1970’s here with people standing around smoking on the street corners, and in the restaurants.

On a side note… I have a story about my mom….

My mom would smoke cigarettes some times when I was growing up.  She would do that when she was on a diet.  So, on occasion, my brother and I would find a pack of cigarettes lying around.

We had purchased a small metal container of “Cigarette Loads”.

Cigarette Loads

Cigarette Loads

These are small explosives you stick down in the end of a cigarette.  When the flame reaches the load, it explodes, destroying the end of the cigarette.  So, we put a Load in one of our mom’s cigarettes and put it back in the pack of cigarettes.

Well, my mom didn’t smoke very often, so I was confused a couple of months later when my mom picked me up from High School one day and I found that I was in trouble.  My mom’s cigarette had blown up in her face and she wasn’t too happy about it.

End of that side story…. time for one more….

I have always bragged about never smoking a cigarette in my life…. but the truth is that one time I tried to smoke a cigarette… here is what happened….

I was in the 9th grade, and I had cooked the steaks for dinner on the grill in the backyard that evening…. After dinner I went for a walk in the weeds behind my house, which was one of the favorite things I enjoyed doing while growing up.

I ended up down the road from our house where a new church was being built.  I walked around the outside of the brick building looking in the windows that were all open as the glass hadn’t been installed yet….

While looking through one window, I noticed a pack of cigarettes left by a construction hand laying on the window sill.  I picked it up and there was one cigarette still in the package.  I realized I had a book of matches in my pocket that I had used to light the charcoal grill that evening… No one was around, and no one could see me because there were no houses around behind the church where I was standing, so I thought…. “I’ll smoke this one cigarette just to see what it’s like.”

So, I put the cigarette in my mouth, and lit the match.  At that very moment, out of nowhere, it began to rain.  The rain immediately soaked the cigarette and put out the match.  I threw them both on the ground as if they had burned my hand and walked quickly away from the church knowing full well what had just happened.  The rain stopped just as suddenly as it began.  I said out loud, “I received your message God.  I’m not going to try that again!”  I only needed that kick in pants once.

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8 responses

  1. Amen. You’ve got great hearing, Kevin.

  2. Great post, very informative, but I just can’t get the ‘coal-fired power plant non smoking policy’ out of my head. Isn’t that like an oxymoron?

  3. After seeing the Smoke-Free Coalition button, the state will always be “Klahoma” to me

  4. Good write up! 2nd hand smoke is just as lethal. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Good writing. Interesting article. I grew up with a chain smoking step dad and ended up smoking for the first time at 13. I continued smoking until I was 24. I would hide my smoking from my son though and did quit while pregnant. When he was four he caught me smoking and I explained it was bad and could make you sick and he looked at me very concerned and like I was slightly crazy and asked me to please stop so I wouldn’t hurt myself. I quit not to long after that.

  6. Thanks for visiting my blog. A No-Smoking policy at a coal-powered plant IS interesting. Here in Ohio most of our electricity comes from coal-powered plants, but some of them are in danger of closing because of the EPA’s stricter carbon-emission rules.

  7. I enjoyed your story…I have my own story to tell about the Lord delivering me from smoking, if you care to read it… I tell about it in my Journal, “Praying To The Lord”. May God bless you today!

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