I’ve had chronic bronchitis most of my life which has developed into mild asthma. Whenever I am around someone who is smoking, I begin to choke up and it feels like I can’t catch my breath. The heavier the smoke, the more difficulty I have breathing.
I am encouraged to see how many businesses, cities and counties ban smoking in public places because of health concerns, but there are still too many places where a non-smoker like myself cannot go without being exposed to secondhand smoke. I can’t tell you how many times I have found smokers congregated right outside a store, restaurant or other buildings. You can’t enter or exit the building without passing through a thick cloud of secondhand smoke.
Besides the respiratory distress it causes me and others, secondhand smoking is known to cause cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, secondhand smoke is more dangerous than the smoke being exhaled by a smoker. The smoke exhaled by a smoker is referred to as mainstream smoke and the smoke released from the lit end of whatever tobacco product is being smoked is called sidestream smoke.
Secondhand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke, is a combination of mainstream smoke and sidestream smoke. Sidestream smoke contains higher concentrations of carcinogens than mainstream smoke. It also contains smaller particles that are carried by the smoke that are not only inhaled by someone nearby, but they also more readily find their way into the lungs and into the blood stream and the body’s cells.
Did you know that there are at least 250 chemicals in secondhand smoke that are known to cause cancer in non-smokers? Nonsmokers breathing in secondhand smoke are known as passive smoking. Passive smoking has been linked to lung cancer, childhood leukemia, and cancer of the throat, voice box, stomach, bladder, rectum and brain. Some reports indicate that secondhand smoke may also increase the risk of developing breast cancer, but those tests are still subject to debate.
Researchers at the Charles R. Drew University Department of Internal Medicine conducted a study of smokers, passive smokers and other non-smokers that are not exposed to secondhand smoke. Their study revealed that passive smoking increases a person’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and obesity.
According to the Center for Disease Control, smoking accounts for 443,000 deaths a year in the U.S. which amounts to about 1 of every 5 deaths. Secondhand smoking is credited with 43,000 deaths from heart disease, 3,400 deaths from lung cancer as well as asthma related problems in nearly 1 million children. They also attribute nearly 300,000 lower respiratory infections in children to their exposure to secondhand smoke. Figures from the C.D.C. list 49,400 deaths a year from exposure to secondhand smoke, with 46,000 from heart disease and 3,400 from lung cancer.
I’m aware that tobacco is still a multi-million dollar industry that directly and indirectly affects millions of Americans. Tobacco farmers rely on the income to help support their families. Many of them claim that nothing else will grow on the same land, but that is not necessarily true.
But let’s face it, tobacco related illnesses and deaths costs Americans more than the tobacco industry makes. Nearly half a million Americans die every year as a direct result of smoking and passive smoking. Millions of others suffer from heart disease, respiratory illnesses, cancers of various types, Type 2 diabetes and obesity, all as a result of tobacco. The C.D.C. places this figure at 8.6 million Americans that have some sort of serious illness from smoking.
According to the C.D.C., tobacco related health costs total over $96 BILLION a year. Additionally, tobacco related lost productivity accounts for another $97 BILLION a year. Do you realize that combined, tobacco use is costing nearly $200 BILLION a year? Can you imagine the difference it would make to the economy to put $96 billion back into the wallets of the American people and $97 billion into the coffers of businesses across the land?
In comparison, one source reports that the 4 top US tobacco companies had a combined pre-tax income of only $22.9 BILLION in 2011. I know I may be very unpopular with many smokers, but I believe the costs of lives and nearly $200 billion far outweighs the $23 billion income of the tobacco industry. Personally, I believe the US government should declare tobacco to be a dangerous addictive drug and force the tobacco industry to phase out the cultivation and sale of tobacco products over the next ten years. Tobacco farmers can grow other crops on their lands such as corn or soybean as I’ve seen it happen. In the long run, it will have a positive impact on millions of Americans and American businesses.