James O’Doherty visits Sol Levy, tobacconist of choice for the university’s former Vice-Chancellor
Evelyn Platus, manager and fourth generation proprietor at Sol Levy tobacconist on George St, thinks the smoking ban at Sydney University hasn’t gone far enough.
At least, she thinks the administration should stick to its guns.
“They either approve of it or they don’t approve of it,” she told Honi Soit. “I’m amazed that you’re allowed to smoke anywhere in Sydney University. “One of the biggest proponents against smoking is employed by the university,” she said.
That man is Simon Chapman, a Professor of Public Health at the university. Professor Chapman’s work against the brown leaf includes a proposal to limit cigarettes smoked per day through a licensing system, effectively giving smokers a quota of cigarettes available to them per day.
Professor Chapman’s license system is a hard-hitting alternative to the oft-maligned plain packaging legislation, which will dress tobacco packaging in a drab olive grey by December of this year.
At Sol Levy, a tobacconist that has remained unchanged since 1962, the concept of plain packaging is not relished, and for obvious reasons. But Ms Platus doesn’t think the benefits will outweigh the costs to tobacconists, news agencies, and convenience stores.
“The only people this will affect are the retailers,” Ms Platus said.
Plain packaging laws could be interpreted as having the intention to wean an aesthetically-motivated public off the ‘cool factor’ of smoking, but Ms Platus thinks this intention is moot.
“It won’t stop people, or young people, from taking up smoking,” she said.
“It’s the act of smoking that’s cool, not the packet sticking out of your pocket.
“It will just make it harder for customers to find what they want in the store, and they’ll have to be more vigilant to find what they’re after.”
Public perception about tobacco is a far cry from when the University of Sydney’s own Gavin Brown would puff away at a cigar in the Vice-Chancellor’s garden in the afternoon sun.
For 12 years, Professor Brown sat in the university’s Vice-Chancellor chair, and under his reign, it is arguable no smoking ban would have been considered.
Professor Brown, Ms Platus said, was an avid fan of the cigar. She would know: it’s said Sol Levy used to be his retailer of choice. But it’s been 16 years since Professor Brown was VC, and four since he passed away. The name is almost a faint memory to Ms Platus.
Fast forward to 2012 and public derision of smoking is at fever pitch. Unfortunate, says the proprietor of the oldest and most iconic tobacconist in Sydney.
“Everything that happens to you after you tick the box [admitting exposure to tobacco smoke] is lumped into the smoking category, and it’s not entirely correct.”
“Anything to excess is a health issue, but is it a public health issue?”
She hesitates: “No.”
“They’ve made people cut down a lot, so they’ve cut down on excessive smoking, which is not a bad thing, but there’s so much else out there that does so much more damage than a person choosing to puff on a cigarette, a cigar, or smoke a pipe. It’s less danger to the public than many things out there.”
She goes on to point out that smokers don’t get more aggressive, more dangerous, or more erratic with every puff.
Smokers don’t wander aimlessly onto the road, she said, or start random fights and throw indiscriminate punches.
“I think it’s about time they moved off tobacco and moved on to things creating more of an issue than smoking.”