Tuesday, April 5, 2011

To All You Tobacco Addicted People - Please Stop It!

(The following rant entry was inspired when I got stuck, for the millionth time, both behind and beside two cars with drivers who were smoking, windows wide open, on the first really nice day of the year.  I had my windows down because it was such a nice day and was bombarded by a huge cloud.  While grumbling to my son in the adjacent seat, it occurred to me to do something productive with my discontent by writing about my feelings.  This in no way reflects any personal feelings I have about people I care about who smoke.  I still love you.)

Your right to smoke ends where my nose begins.  I have no desire to develop COPD, emphysema, lung cancer, or any other deadly disease simply because I was forced to breathe in your toxins.

Yes, you have a legal right to smoke, but I ask that you do it where I don’t have to breathe it in second-hand.  This includes concerts (yes, even on the lawn), at the entranceway to stores I am trying to get into, and in your car if you are going to do it with the windows open.  My nine year old vehicle has no recirculated air option, so if your cigarette smoke is pouring out of your windows or if you are holding it outside the car to avoid polluting the air inside of your own car with your fumes, it will be streaming back into my ventilation system.  Meaning, it’s still bothering me.  If you light up at a concert in my vicinity, you are going to get disgusted looks from me.  I paid good money for my ticket, just like you did, and I want to enjoy it in clean air.

Please don’t assume that because you are smoking outdoors, you are not bothering anyone.  If we nonsmokers happen to get downwind of you, we are breathing it in and we are bothered by it.  We choose not to smoke for a multitude of reasons and I'm going to go ahead and put it on the line:  we do not wish to breathe in your toxins.  I haven’t been able to get into a restaurant, grocery store, clothing store, bookstore, or any type of retailer since the new smoking regulations went into effect without having to pass through the huddled mass of smoking employees who are no longer allowed to smoke inside on the job.  It makes me not want to shop anywhere but online.

Speaking of, can someone please explain to me why so many chefs smoke and whether this is the reason there is a paucity of decent restaurant food?  Doesn’t smoking directly affect your ability to smell and taste?  Justin and I watch Hell’s Kitchen every year and, every year, I am astounded by the number of contestants who go back to the “dorms” and light up.  The episode where he blindfolds them and then has them try to identify food items is always fun to watch because the majority of them have no idea what food he is putting into their mouths.  Um, maybe this is due to the smoking?  He even asked last year that they not smoke for a period of maybe a couple of days and guess what?  None of them complied.  I doubt it’s because they didn’t think it was a good idea.  It was probably because they couldn’t.

When I was growing up, everybody smoked and they were allowed to do it everywhere.  My high school even had an indoor smoking section.  Seriously.  No place was off limits – airplanes, restaurants, offices.  I can remember quitting one job when I was 19 as a direct result of them sticking me in a back room with no windows, no ventilation, and two chain smokers.  I would run to the reception area, gasping for air and, after six weeks of this hell, I finally said I can’t take this anymore and quit without notice (or explanation - not wanting to breath in other people's fumes was not, like, you know, cool back then.  I was, in essence, a bummer.)  I know that some, if not all, of you do not understand what the big deal is.  Trust me, if you smoke and we happen to be downwind or walk through it, it really bothers us.  It’s not just us bitching to be bitchy.  Speaking for myself, I just can’t breathe.  If my husband, who has asthma, is around, it bothers us to an infinite power.  He’s going to have an asthma attack and I don’t think that’s fair to him.  Try having your lungs slam shut on you and see how you like it. 

Here’s another reason all of us non-smokers were getting so huffy about you smoking in public buildings, restaurants, bars, stores, airplanes, etc.  People who worked in these places were getting sick as a direct result of your smoking.  Please don’t get angry that non-smokers do not want to breathe your smoke.  You have a legal right to do it.  You do not have a right to make those of us who choose not to do it.  I am grateful that the government has finally made it more or less safe not only for me, but for people who earn a living in these public places by removing your habit from our environment.

I know that the locations where you are now allowed to smoke are dwindling every day.  And I’m sorry, I know this sucks for you, but this is how it should be.  Smoking is dangerous, not just for you, but for everyone around you that has to breathe it in.  That includes your children, people!  I beg you, if you have children, do not smoke around them.  Yes, that even means outside.  Not only are they still getting your second hand smoke, because there’s just no way you can keep it completely away from them, but they are observing you doing something you (come on, admit it) would never want them to do, for reasons I will go into in a minute.

For God’s sake, if you have children and you feel that you must smoke in the car, please, please do not do it while they are strapped helplessly into it.  I can’t count the number of times I have seen some woman with a cell phone in one hand and a cigarette in the other while her poor children are gasping for air and praying that their distracted mother will not get into an accident.  Put down the cigarette and the cell phone and drive.  You’re not only doing your kids a favor.  You’re making the road a safer place for all of us.  Don’t smoke in the car for them, if you aren’t willing to not do it for me.

Speaking of children, I have three of my own.  If you smoke around my child, you will really risk my wrath because my children are my life and I want them to have good, long ones.  If I am determined not to breathe your smoke myself, I am rabid about my children not breathing it.  So, play it safe and don’t light up if you see me with my kids.  One of us will be leaving.

If you’re not old enough to smoke or haven’t started, here's why it’s not cool to start.  Smoking is as addictive as heroin and just as hard to give up.  In fact, I thought it would be a good idea to back up this statement, so I went to the American Heart Association’s website and here’s what they have to say about it:
  • Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are addicting.
  • Nicotine is the drug that causes addiction.
  • Pharmacologic and behavioral characteristics that determine tobacco addiction are similar to those that determine addiction to drugs such as heroin and cocaine.
Heroin and cocaine.  Quitting, I know, is really hard and there’s the reason, stated by people who know it for a fact.  Here are the effects of trying to stop smoking (again, from their website):
  • irritability
  • impatience
  • hostility
  • anxiety
  • depressed mood
  • difficulty concentrating
  • restlessness
  • decreased heart rate
  • increased appetite or weight gain
So yeah, quitting sucks.  But if you don’t quit, what are the chances that you are going to get lung cancer, have a heart attack, a stroke, or any of the other myriad of health problems that go along with smoking?  There are numerous drugs and anti-smoking programs that have been developed just for you to help you through these miserable symptoms.  I wonder why they don’t have cigarette rehab centers.  There are probably a lot more people addicted to smoking than to, say, alcohol and the health effects of smoking are well documented and freaking expensive.  If you're on Medicaid or have no health insurance, guess who gets to pay for your treatment down the road for your smoking induced illness?  Me, the non-smoker.

I’ll tell you why there are no rehab centers for smokers.  There are big money making lobbyists in Washington who have a vested financial interest in making sure that once you start, you never quit.  Which is why they make it so addictive, right?  The lobbyists continue to fight tooth and nail to keep you from finding out exactly what it is that you are doing to your body and the bodies of those around you.  But slowly, health officials are pushing them back and passing laws making it illegal to smoke, well, almost everywhere.  And here I am telling you I would prefer that you not smoke in your car if it’s moving!  Who the hell am I to tell you what to do?  I’ll say it again.  Your right to smoke ends when your smoke hits my nose and gets into my system.  It says it right on the package:  The Surgeon General has determined that smoking is hazardous to your health.  I’m telling you that it’s also hazardous to my health if I have to breath it because you are smoking around me.

Speaking of what smoking does to your body, have you ever noticed when you visit a hospital the groups of health care professionals gathered around the one outside ashbin?  What’s up with that?  It’s not enough to actually know and witness what smoking does to a person’s body second-hand?  Do you really want to go through it yourself?  Are these people smoking as the result of the stress of treating people with smoking related diseases?  Oh my...  

I was absolutely speechless when Justin and I attended the St. Baldrick’s event two weekends ago in Syracuse and watched some of the people getting their heads shaved to help find a cure for childhood cancer or supporting those doing so light up the minute they came out of the pub.  Cancer, people!  We’re trying to cure cancer.  Why not try to prevent it by not smoking?  Can you watch your own child go through cancer treatments and smoke without guilt?  How is that child you fought so hard for going to feel in 15 or 20 years when the doctor says you have lung cancer?  You’re willing to fight for them but not for yourself?  Why is that?

Here’s another thing.  If you’re pregnant, for God’s sake do not expose your unborn child to it.  Quit for the pregnancy, at the very least.  My mother smoked way back in the dark ages before the Surgeon General declared that smoking caused birth defects and other assorted problems in newborns.  I was born under 5 lbs. and have been sick with one thing or another (both mental and physical) my entire life.  My mom says that she believes they induced her labor three weeks early, but even if that’s true, babies at term gain about a half a pound a week inside the womb.  If she had gone to what she believes would have been “full term,” I still would have been under 7 pounds - not that big a baby.  My birth weight was 4 pounds, 13 ounces and I was in an incubator for two weeks, I assume because my little lungs were underdeveloped.  Because I was born three weeks early?  Possibly.  Because my mother smoked?  Also possible.

When I was little, I had tonsillitis more times than my parents could count.  I’ve had stomach problems my entire life.  I have bipolar disorder, anxiety, arthritis, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and osteopenia (brittle bones).  I have absolutely no idea if my lifelong health problems are even a little bit the result of the toxins my mother inhaled while pregnant, having no idea it was dangerous for her or her baby.  Is anyone doing studies on those of us who were in the womb while our mothers were lighting up socially at the bridge club?  How many of us who have chronic illnesses like fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, etc. have mothers who smoked while pregnant? 

Okay, here’s what Dr. Sears has to say:

Children of mothers who smoked during pregnancy are more likely to show:
  • Decreased newborn Apgar scores (if smoking more than one pack a day)
  • Decreased mental performance scoring at age one year
  • Decreased academic performance scores in the school-age child
  • Reduced I.Q.
  • Shorter stature (by one to two centimeters)
  • Smaller head circumference as infants
  • Increased learning difficulties (children were 25 percent more likely to have learning disabilities if their mother smoked greater than 20 cigarettes a day)
  • Increased hyperactivity
  • Increased behavioral problems
He doesn’t go into long term effects, like, say into adulthood.  I don’t know that these studies exist.  And no, I am absolutely NOT blaming my mother for my health and mental problems.  But could there be a link there and is anyone checking into it?

Kids who are exposed to second hand smoke are much more likely to have ear infections and develop asthma.  This is not only from exposure in the home.  Please, God, please, I’m begging you, do not smoke in your car while your child is in it. Even if your window is cracked or even open, your child can still smell it.  He or she is still breathing it in.  Believe me, even if there were absolutely no connection between smoking and health problems in children, I promise you they do not want to smell your cigarette smoke!  I say this from experience.  My mother smoked in the car and in the house and I made her life a living hell because I hated it.  Now I know I had good reason to hate it, not just because it made it hard for me to breathe.  But because it could (or did) cause health problems!

My mother tried for years to quit smoking (proving my point that smoking is addictive) and she can’t stand to be around it now.  I admire the fact that she was eventually able to give it up before all these stop smoking programs became so fashionable.  I admire anyone who is able to quit smoking and I admire those of you who are trying to do so.  It takes not only the willingness to admit that you not only have a really bad, dirty, disgusting habit, but a nod to the fact that the cigarette manufacturers intended for you to be unable to quit and you are going to ahead and try to quit anyway.  For your friends, your husband, your wife, your significant other, your children, most of all for yourself, please do not stop trying to quit.  Get some help; it’s out there.  Please, put the tobacco lobbyists and manufacturers out of business and save yourself a butt (haha) load of money in the process.  There’s a reason they’re taxing you to death on those little cancer sticks.  And the farmers can plant something else, for God's sake.  They don't have to plant tobacco.

To reiterate my original gripe, just because you are in your car does not mean that your smoke is not reaching me.  If I am stuck behind you and it’s coming out of your car and drifting in my direction, I guarantee you I am not happy that you need to smoke.

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