Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Ask People to Put Out Their Cigarettes

This should go without saying for self-interested rationalists: smoking is bad. Don't do it. Try to get other people not to do it.

My campus is supposed to be smoke free. This is quite clearly signed in multiple places. One day as I walked out of class with a colleague, we spied a woman smoking outside the entrance to the library.

"There goes our smoke free campus," my colleague said. "I wish someone would say something."

[At this point I was reminded of a civil rights display at a museum in Washington D.C. A boy commented to his grandfather that somebody should move a tree that had fallen and was blocking the road. His grandfather looked at him and asked, "Aren't you somebody?" So he went and moved it.]

So I said to my colleague, "Why don't you say something?"

"I don't want to get in an argument with someone."

So I went over to the smoking woman and said, "I'm sorry to bug you, but we're a smoke-free campus and we take that pretty seriously."

She smiled and sheepishly put out her cigarette. "You're right. I'm sorry, I know I shouldn't have lit up."

And I said, "Hey, no problem, I'm glad you're smoking one less cigarette." And I was thrilled to have made a difference, however small. Trading this story with other people's, I find that the vast majority of the time, people react well to a stranger taking a positive interest in their well-being.

The punchline is that, apparently, there are "rationalists" and "skeptics" who smoke. Why is this bad? Because we need more skeptics and atheists and we need them to live a long time to do good things in the world, that's why! So if you know any of these people, help them to quit! Direct them to resources and support them. Make deals with them to get over one of your own bad habits. Social support is one of the best predictors of changing habits. That's an idea for the next local event I go to here in San Diego: a group bad-habit challenge, made in full view of everyone...Taco Bell is going to lose money if I succeed!

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