Archive for Thursday, June 26, 2008

Smoking ban a boon for public health

June 26, 2008

When I recently read about the ban on smoking in most of Kansas City, Mo.'s bars and restaurants, I silently cheered. I hope it's just a matter of time the casinos and the rest of the metropolitan area not under the ban on smoking in public places join the general ban. A male relative of mine becomes incensed whenever he encounters the ban, saying it is a form of fascism, but when he exercises his right to smoke in an enclosed place, it makes my right to breathe extremely difficult. He claims that the damage secondhand smoke does is "bogus," and insists there is no conclusive proof that breathing in exhaled tobacco smoke damages anybody. But, I am adamant; there's no smoking allowed in my car or in my home.

It's been some time since my husband (not the relative in question) gave up pipes and cigars, and I've grown accustomed to clean air. Whenever I've eaten at a place which is filled with heavy smoking, I pay the price the next day, coughing and wheezing. My mother didn't smoke, except for a brief period in college, but my father was rarely without a pipe or cigar. He was relatively unaffected, but she suffered greatly from emphysema and asthma in later life. Only one of my siblings became a smoker, my sister. As far as I know, she still smokes and I worry about her. I have aunts who were heavy smokers. They didn't want to quit because they were concerned about weight gain. Unfortunately, lung and throat cancer made potential weight gain seem like a minor problem.

Tobacco use is something that has a time-honored use in our country. It was one of the chief exports from the American colonies before we even became a nation. It remains a way for some rural families to make a living and fuels some large companies. However, a mountain of evidence makes clear that smoking is a major cause of a number of diseases for those actually using tobacco in one of its forms. However, those using tobacco have long debated whether the smoke is harmful to others who do not directly inhale it. The American Lung Association cites evidence that secondhand smoke is, indeed, extremely hazardous to those who do not actually smoke, but who are in the presence of those who light up.

According to a 2008 fact sheet published on the Web by the American Lung Association, secondhand smoke can "cause or exacerbate a wide range of adverse health effects, including cancer, respiratory infections, and asthma." It contains hundreds of carcinogenic and toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde, benzene, vinyl chloride, arsenic ammonia, and hydrogen cyanide. If a restaurant served us a meal laced with these substances, we would be outraged. But, since smoking is apparently a social activity, it has been allowed in places where we congregate to share meals. Unless smokers are in a sealed room, I don't know how restaurants can keep nonsmokers completely isolated from secondhand smoke. And, how about those employees and nonsmoking friends and children of smokers who are present in the smoking area? Studies show that "levels of secondhand smoke in restaurants and bars were found to be 2 to 5 times higher than in residences with smokers and 2 to 6 times higher than office workplaces."

I am a vociferous and persistent advocate of the individual's right to pursue freedom of speech, religion and in general whatever makes him or her happy. However, when that freedom takes away another's right to life and health, then we must put limits on the harmful activity. If someone wishes to smoke, he or she should be allowed to do just that, but in a place where others are not subject to the harm created by the privilege of smoking.

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