FLORENCE GILKESON: Clear the Air: Secondhand Smoke Is Offensive, Harmful
As a member of the MooreHealth Board, I was asked to join one of three teams dedicated to tackling a particular health issue affecting Moore County. I daresay that the three issues chosen affect every county in North Carolina: obesity, teen pregnancy and tobacco.
I picked tobacco largely because I know something about the subject. I grew up on a tobacco farm and worked in tobacco in my youth. I saw loved ones die of smoking-related disease.
In earlier columns I discussed restaurants that have adopted a policy to become entirely smoke-free. For years restaurants have set aside smoking and non-smoking areas, but it has long been apparent that this doesn't work. Smoke always floats in the direction of the non-smoker.
This time I want to delve into the issue of secondhand smoke, a subject that riles a lot of people because they can't understand why secondhand smoke should injure the non-smoker. The truth is that the non-smoker must still inhale smoke-infested air.
The North Carolina Alliance for Health is promoting a movement to eliminate secondhand smoke from work sites and public places. The alliance cites statistics showing that secondhand smoke can be blamed for more than 1,200 deaths of adults, children and babies every year. The alliance says that non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke are likely to die from many of the same diseases that take the lives of smokers.
The National Cancer Institute and the Environmental Protection Agency report that secondhand smoke places young people at increased risk of such things as chronic ear infections, asthma, abdominal obesity and impaired ability to learn.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers says ventilation and other air filtration technologies cannot eliminate all health risks associated with exposure to smoke.
And of course, we all know that divisions in restaurants may keep people apart but smoke knows no barriers.
Smoking is already prohibited in our state legislative chambers, but Rep. Rick Glazier of Cumberland County introduced a bill to ban smoking throughout the Legislative Building. That would mean that legislators and staff members would be required to move outdoors to puff away.
My father was a tobacco grower and a smoker. But curiously enough, he rarely smoked at home. He would smoke on the porch, in the yard, on the farm but not in the house. It seems that his mother forbade smoking inside the home.
In her era, smoking was not an appropriate activity for the home. No doubt, she grew up in the same era in which men retired to the "smoking room" after dinner and the ladies retired to a special parlor to continue refined conversation.
My husband could not boast such a grandmother, and he smoked his pipe continuously. When he had a heart attack, the doctor told him he must quit smoking cigarettes, so he switched to a pipe. He reasoned that the pipe would be less harmful because he did not inhale.
I wonder sometimes why so many people in the medical and health-related professions smoke.
Traveling along Page Road in Pinehurst, I am surprised to see uniformed health professionals standing or sitting at curbside smoking during their breaks.
If you don't believe in the effects of secondhand smoke, let me relate a personal experience. My husband died in 1990, and The Pilot went non-smoking in the late 1990s. Now I'm spoiled by a smoke-free atmosphere.
Summoned to an impromptu family reunion at Morehead City last summer, I had to make last-minute reservations in Morehead City the weekend after the Fourth of July. As expected, hotels and motels along the Crystal Coast were packed, and I had difficulty finding a room. Finally, I found a room at one hotel but it was a smoking room. I wasn't pleased but theorized that it wouldn't hurt just for one night. Besides, I would be spending most of the time at a family home with relatives.
This was a colossal mistake. The stink was almost unbearable, and I used up an entire container of air freshener in a vain attempt to lessen the pervasive odor.
Ask anyone whose home has caught fire, or anyone who has burned a pot in the kitchen, and you will learn that no odor is more overpowering, offensive and difficult to remove than smoke.
Next time, I may just send my regrets.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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