I have been writing in The Downey Patriot for years about how we can improve our health through changing our lifestyle. When I see patients I listen carefully to their needs. I don't judge; I'm clear that none of us are perfect, but rather on our own particular journey of life and growth. When we decide to eat in a way that is detrimental to our health, or to lead a sedentary lifestyle, or to drink to excess, we do so because of our own complex needs at the time. Certainly, these day-to-day decisions hurt us, but they generally don't hurt others. In fact, in this country we pride ourselves on enjoying the freedom to do even what is not in our own best interest…because we can.Where, then, is the line between enjoying our personal freedoms and infringing on those of others? One all too common activity that has been well proven to cause harm to others is…secondhand smoke. Most of us consider it extremely unfortunate when a smoker's spouse or child is exposed to harmful secondhand smoke, but we are hesitant to legislate what goes on in another's home. But what about out in our community? Does a government have an obligation to protect its citizens in public spaces? This is the very question that the Downey City Council will soon be addressing. You may wish to weigh in. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates lung cancer deaths from secondhand smoke at approximately 3,000 per year. This is due to the thousands of harmful substances found in smoke, many of which are known carcinogens. They include benzene, carbon monoxide, chromium, cyanide, arsenic, cadmium, ethylene oxide, vinyl chloride, toluene, formaldehyde, lead, nickel, and polonium. These particles can linger in the air for hours. Breathing secondhand smoke for a short time can irritate the lungs and reduce the amount of oxygen in the blood. Prolonged or repeated exposure is all the more dangerous. It isn't merely the smoke that's of concern. Smoke residue that clings to a smoker's hair and clothing, as well as cushions and carpeting - sometimes referred to as third hand smoke - can also pose risks, especially for children. Many studies focus on children, because they have the least control over their environment, are still developing physically, and suffer the greatest health consequences. Asthma, pneumonia, bronchitis, and middle ear infections are seen more frequently among exposed children, as are sudden infant death syndrome, attention deficit disorder and low birth weight among the children of women exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy. 11% of children under age seven are exposed to secondhand smoke on a regular basis, and their parents are responsible for 90% of that exposure. There is no level of exposure that is risk-free. The most common health risks associated with secondhand smoke include lung and heart diseases, including cancer of the lungs as well as a multitude of other cancers that smokers themselves experience. Nonsmokers have a 20-30% increased risk of developing lung cancer from routine exposure to secondhand smoke at work or at home, and a 25-30% greater risk of developing heart disease. At particularly greatest risk are those who already have heart disease, and this group should take extra precautions to avoid even brief exposure to secondhand smoke. How can secondhand smoke be avoided? Whether you are a smoker wishing to protect others, or a non-smoker, start with these simple steps: •Don't allow smoking in your home. If family members or guests want to smoke, ask them to step outside. • Don't allow smoking in your car. If a passenger must smoke, stop for a smoke break outside the car. •Insist that smoking restrictions be enforced in your workplace. •Choose smoke-free care facilities. If you take your children to a childcare provider, or if loved ones reside in a long-term care facility, make sure that these facilities are smoke-free. Laws vary depending on where you live. • Make sure that the businesses and restaurants you patronize comply with no-smoking policies. •Keep your distance from smokers. If you must share public space with people who are smoking, sit as far away from them as possible. •If you have a partner or other loved one who smokes, offer support and encouragement to stop smoking. Everyone will benefit. •Stay far from smokers if you are pregnant. Exposure to smoke affects the health of your baby. While it is my job to discuss paths to health, it is your job to make your own life work. In this journey, please always respect the health of others. Let's all appreciate that there is a fine line between the freedom to smoke, and the health and rights of nonsmokers who do not wish to be exposed to cigarette smoke. When the Downey City Council tackles this important issue, let your thoughts be heard. Good health to you all! Dr. Alan Frischer is former chief of staff and former chief of medicine at Downey Regional Medical Center. Write to him in care of this newspaper at 8301 E. Florence Ave., Suite 100, Downey, CA 90240.
********** Published: August 25, 2011 - Volume 10 - Issue 19