Ajarn Street

Only non-smokers need apply

Are we witnessing the start of a new trend?

I posted a job ad today for a ‘native English teacher and a ‘non-smoker'. You rarely see a job description that insists on a new hire being a non-smoker - at least as far as teaching jobs in Thailand are concerned - but could we be witnessing the start of a new trend? Has there ever been a better time to kick one's addiction to the foul weed?

I'll put my hand up. I'm a smoker. The truth is I damn well enjoy a cigarette. Looking back, I've always worked in schools where the majority of male teachers were smokers and I've spent many a happy work-break in a huddle of nicotine addicts congregated near the fire escape or outside in the street. And there we'd puff on our ciggies, share a joke and a laugh, and chat about work-related issues. The regular smoke break became a not-to-be-missed social occasion whether you fancied a cigarette or not. In many ways, the smoke break became just as addictive and routine as lighting up a cigarette. In the 90's, there was no shame attached to being a male teacher who happened to enjoy a smoke. You were part of the fashionable majority. Sometimes, if you were in a class with a bunch of particularly uncooperative students, it was only the thought of the next smoke break that kept you going.

Then one afternoon I walked into a writing class of about a dozen adult students. It was the first lesson after lunch if I recall and of course, the teachers' room smoking club had been in full swing. There was one student in the group who wasn't shy when it came to expressing his opinions. He'd already told one of my colleagues he was overweight and another teacher that his clothes looked ‘poor'. Now it was my turn for a dressing down. The student put a finger up to his nose and after searching for the right vocabulary, looked at me and said "teacher - you stink"

I felt myself blush. His comment was hurtful but I can't deny he was probably right. I looked around the room and gambled for support from the other students. Everyone nodded in the affirmative. Sorry teacher - you really do stink.

I excused myself from the class for a few moments and dived into the nearest bathroom. One of the smoker's biggest problems is that they never realize just how badly they smell and how offensive it is to those around them.

From then on I adopted what I call my ‘smokers' ritual'. Every time I put out a cigarette, I would go straight to the restroom, suck on something strong and minty, wash my hands with soap and water, splash on a bit of cheap eau de cologne and finish off with some intensive body lotion. I even bought a dainty toilet bag to keep all my stuff in. The toilet bag essentially became my secret smoker's kit. New teachers couldn't believe that I was a nicotine junkie because I always smelled so good. "You're a ‘stealth smoker" commented one colleague. And I've been that way ever since.

Many teacher smokers sometimes wonder if it's worth all the effort. If you work in a school with easy access to a smoking area and a group of colleagues all willing to join you for a ‘quick drag' - then it's no problem. But find yourself teaching a corporate group on the 40th floor of a ‘smoker-unfriendly' office building, and that ten-minute break becomes an operation of military precision. You rush to the elevator hoping that you won't have to wait long for a lift to the ground floor. Then it's a mad dash to the smoking area - a quick cigarette with barely a pause between puffs and then hopefully a fast elevator back up to the 40th floor. And don't forget you still need to leave a couple of minutes for your smokers' ritual with the soap, mints and perfume. No time for a coffee even. The cigarette becomes priority number one. It's ludicrous. Surely a few puffs on a cigarette can't be worth putting yourself through such an ordeal but smokers do it all the time.

Like most major cities around the world, Bangkok has become extremely ‘smoker unfriendly'. Smoking areas in office buildings can be small and hard to locate - that's if the building even has one. And those who smoke all know what it's like to enjoy a cigarette on that ‘five minute walk to a new corporate class' only to find when they arrive at the entrance doors, that there isn't a single public garbage bin or ashtray in sight. You then have to go through the harrowing process of cigarette butt disposal. What are your options? You could put your nub end down that drain but how many security staff or litter police are going to jump on you? You could extinguish your cigarette on the side of that plastic litter bin but what if the lighted end falls onto all that paper? What if one of your students looks out of the window mid-way through the lesson and amid a cacophony of wailing sirens, wonders why half of Bangkok's fire service has turned up? It's all part of the joys of being a teacher and smoker.

I went to lunch with an old friend a few days ago. He hasn't smoked a cigarette for years but was once a self-confessed forty-a-day man. At one stage, he even received a written warning from one employer stating that his constant coughing was irritating and distracting his co-workers. That said Bryan is a rare breed. He's an ex-smoker who still sympathizes with how difficult it must be for a modern day smoker

As we walked to a local restaurant, we passed an apartment building and spied a gentleman enjoying a cigarette up on his fourth floor balcony. I say enjoy because the midday sun was blazing hot and he was in direct sunlight. He was probably yet another smoker who had decided to banish himself to the relative peace of the balcony rather than endure protests from those irritating non-smokers inside.  Bryan suggested that the best course of action would be for the authorities to completely ban cigarettes. Period. "Make the bloody things illegal" he said, rather than treat smokers as social outcasts.

If you're a teacher who has managed to kick the habit, you have my respect. If you haven't got the will-power, you still get my respect. Just don't forget the mints when you go for a job interview. To end on a positive note for the smokers out there, at a recent medical check up, the doctor bemoaned my lack of exercise. He said "you need to do something that regularly leaves you short of breath" Hang on. Isn't that exactly what smoking does for you?


My school has a non-smoking hiring requirement which applies to everyone from the cleaners to the admins. Nobody smokes. All schools should be this way.

By Mark Newman, Thailand (13th September 2014)

I am a smoker. Can you believe when I am at work I smoke just one!!!! No time!!! 6-8hours at work and just one chance to smoke - lunch time !!!! Anyway it's worth hehe And that's true if your lesson goes all wrong only cig perspective keeps you alive. Good luck to all smokers either you want to give it up or not:)

By Daro, Chiang Mai (22nd November 2010)

I remember when I was young, the tradition for a man when having a new baby was to go down to the nursery with his friends and smoke cigars in triumph. And the only thing that separated the smokers from the fresh, out of the oven, babies was a thin pane of glass.

And here we are 30 - 40 years later. All the segregation of minorities (race, religion, sexual orientation) are scorned and society has turned on smokers. Humphrey Bogart would be horrified. Smokers have fallen lower in stature than drug addicted prostitutes because they are allowed to hang out indoors.

And I get it, I'm not allowed to smoke on a plane. It's been over 15 years since we have been allowed to, so it's time to get rid of the non-smoking lights that never go off. In fact, inside some of the safety cards I noticed a no smoking sign above the picture of people in the crash position. I had to call the stewardess over and tell her to that if this scenario happens, sorry, I am lighting up. Fine me after we crash. And the last thing I will say about airplanes is that we are told that the washrooms are equipped with sensitive smoke detectors and the fine is $2000 and 2 years in jail. Then you go into the washroom and what do you find (on every commercial plane in the world)? An ashtray. I really think that someone is messing with me. How about 'Cancer Air' were there is a cigarette lighter at every seat? And while I'm on the subject, 'Fly At Your Own Risk Airlines' where they give everybody a gun to get rid of airport security. Nobody would dumb enough to hijack that flight and if someone does, well the policy is in the title. Just a thought.

You know what we as smokers should do is take lessons from some of the other minorities of the past and have ourselves a 'Smokers Pride Parade'. The only problem is that we'd get about 3 blocks, be out of breath, and need to sit down.

But I do agree that smoking in schools is inappropriate. Give us a dark, dank smoking pit because the last thing I want is students bumming cigarettes off me and in front of their parents. Not very professional.

By Jeh, Bangkok (25th August 2010)

The worse anti-smokers in the world are the reformed smokers. They're a pain in the bloody arse, what with their new-found morals on how disgusting and antisocial the habit of nicotine addiction is. They quickly forget the days when they used to come out with their pathetic little requests such as:

"Is it okay if I smoke in your car?" or, as they sit comfortably in someone else's living room, they chirp; "you don't mind if I have a cigarette. Do you?" But now, they are holier-than-thou, and many wouldn't even let you suck on a filtered Super king in their back yard!

I've quit for some 13 years, yet if it wasn't for health reasons, I'd still be at it today. To be honest, I've always found smokers friendlier, more outgoing, and more up for a laugh, compared to those who have never smoked, and especially those who used to smoke, the latter of which have become the bores of society!

Okay, so smoking and smokers do pong a bit, and tobacco smoke does stain, plus it is harmful to health. No one is disputing those facts, and I agree that there should be allocated areas where smokers don't expose their burning leaves to others, but…

For crying out loud people, if the best smoker's rights a government can come up with are chilly shop doorways, back alleys, and unventilated rooms at airports and train stations, then what's the point of Sir Francis Drake's once popular import being a legal activity at all in 2010?

Hey, I'd sooner smell the stale tobacco on someone who's just had a fag in the stairwell than the pungent stench of ole garlic breath, or the festering armpits of an eco fanatic who refuses to use deodorants based on some wacky belief that such products are depleting the ozone.

All this 'health' concern about the dangers of smoking seems a little odd coming from those folks who fill their families' bellies with junk food for years on end! Millions of people are digging their own graves with a knife & fork, and it's a fact that more people in the world die through gluttony than starvation, but still they think the gentle furl of lighted cigarette some distance away is putting their health at risk!!!

Yet despite it all, the non smokers of the world, be they beer drinking monsters, pot bellied burger fiends, or 2 car families who happily spew a trillion harmful chemicals into the streets with their SUV's and other such gas guzzlers, still scorn and criticise when they drive by a lone smoker having a few puffs of Marlborough Light, at the side of some breezy building!

There are so many restrictions on smokers these days that it's barely legal at all. I say outlaw tobacco when 2 vehicle Vince and his fat family start cycling and stop polluting! Oh, and why they're at it, perhaps they could stop supporting those burger joints too.

Did you know that your McHabit sees these conglomerates breeding so much cattle for their beef that bovine farts are polluting the air that we breathe way more than a zillion packet of Capstan Full Strength ever could!

So let's see less prejudice and more rights for smokers!


By Aitch, Chiang Mai (24th August 2010)

Well this is a subject that I must agree with. Especially being a non-smoker now for 6 months because I am one who has accute asthma and other health problems, so I was forced to kick the habit. No regrets here!!! I now realize how bad the smell really is especially to a non-smoker usually most Thai women. So you have my vote if you smoke or if you are 60 years old (officel retirement age) please don't apply here. If we are talking about alchocol then this is another story. I do believe the smell from spending an evening out with your mates the night before will have a stronger odor than coffee and cigarettes combined but this is one bad habit I am not going to give up any time in the near future. Sorry!

By Donald Patnaude, Bangkok (23rd August 2010)

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