THE RIGHT TO BREATHE CLEAN AIR

Occupational safety and health magazines, when publishing articles about respiratory protection, often report about respirators, hazardous environments and fit testing. But today I'm going to talk about a different type of respiratory protection: the elimination of second-hand smoke.

I live in Ohio, a state where voters in November 2006 approved a strong, comprehensive smoke-free workplace law by just over 58 percent of the vote. A tobacco company-backed proposal appearing on the same ballot that would have repealed comprehensive smoke-free laws in many cities and allowed smoking in many workplaces failed miserably. To date, more than 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed comprehensive smoke-free laws.

I'll come clean right here at the start: I've never been a smoker, although I was raised in a household where both parents smoked. My father, in fact, started smoking at age 12 and smoked almost until he died at age 81. I freely acknowledge that smoking is an addiction, and that as a non-smoker, I have no idea how difficult it is to quit, although I've watched many friends struggle to do so.

I'll come clean again: I love the law. I never realized how much I loved the law until I went to Chicago for the National Safety Congress and watched in horror as people lit up all around me in restaurants and bars. At one point, I was asked, “smoking or non?” and I had such a startled look on my face that the hostess laughed and said, “You must live in a non-smoking state.”

I wouldn't call Ohio non-smoking — plenty of people continue to light up — but they don't light up inside bars, restaurants or most other workplaces since the law took effect.

My unrepentant smoking friends are — to put it mildly — ticked off about the law. If they're having a cocktail or a beer while sitting in a bar, they want to be able to light up a smoke. When they're done eating, they'd like to enjoy that after dinner cigar. They feel that it is their right to smoke and that the issue is one of personal freedom.

You know what I say to that? Tough tooties!

The American Lung Association estimates that nearly 50,000 people each year die as a result of exposure to second-hand smoke, Hundreds of thousands more suffer from illnesses such as COPD and asthma that are aggravated by second-hand smoke. Last winter, the first winter of Ohio's smoke-free law, also is the first winter since I was 4 years old that I haven't suffered from pneumonia, bronchitis or asthma attacks. Coincidence? I don't think so.

Hundreds of attendees of the 2007 National Conference on Tobacco or Health — including teens and adults representing all 50 states — rallied outside the Minneapolis Convention Center to raise awareness about the benefits of smoke-free policies and celebrate the progress of smoke-free laws across the nation.

The “Enjoy the Freedom to Breathe!” rally highlighted Minnesota's implementation earlier this month of its comprehensive workplace smoke-free law, the Freedom to Breathe Act. With the action in Minnesota, more than half the U.S. population now is protected by smoke-free laws that include restaurants and bars.

THE FACTS

The need for protection from second-hand smoke in all workplaces and public places has never been clearer. In issuing a groundbreaking report on secondhand smoke in June 2006, U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona stated, “The debate is over. The science is clear: Second-hand smoke is not a mere annoyance, but a serious health hazard that causes premature death and disease in children and nonsmoking adults.”

Many workplaces offer smoking cessation programs to employees. For those that do not, here are some interesting facts:

  • Second-hand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including at least 69 carcinogens.
  • The Surgeon General found that second-hand smoke is a proven cause of lung cancer, heart disease, serious respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis and asthma, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome.
  • Second-hand smoke is responsible for 50,000 deaths in the United States each year and there is no safe level of exposure.

Please treat smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke as you would any hazardous chemical in the workplace. If you truly want to protect employees from a potentially fatal hazard impacting them and their families, encourage them to quit smoking and offer them programs do so.

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