The detrimental health of smoking and secondhand smoke are serious and widespread in society, for cigarette smoking is the leading cause of lung cancer in the United States, and lung cancer is the leading cause of all cancer deaths in this country. Furthermore, there is an increasing consensus throughout the medical profession that in addition to the damage cigarette smoking directly inflicts upon the health of smokers, a significant number of lung cancer and heart disease deaths are caused by the indirect but harmful effects of inhaling second hand smoke in homes, cars, workplace and other public arenas.
The evidence continues to accumulate that secondary smoke is a significant health hazard. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency (1992) warns that secondary smoke contains more than 4,000 substances, many of which have been proven to cause cancer in humans and animals, and many of which are strong irritants. Many of the same substances present in mainstream smoke are also in secondary smoke, including a wide variety of carcinogenic agents.
In general terms, second hand smoke is the smoke that people breathe when they are present in the same airspace as smokers. Glantz and Parmley (1991) warn that secondary smoke is a harmful mixture of exhaled mainstream smoke from the smoker and side stream smoke which is emitted from the smoldering tobacco and consists of contaminants that diffuse through the cigarette paper as the cigarette burns.
Pirkle et al (1996) warns that exposure to the hazards of environmental or second hand smoke includes other acute and chronic health effects among nonsmokers. These effects include lung cancer, asthma, and increased incidence of respiratory infections, decreased pulmonary function, and cardiovascular disease. It is important to realize of US children aged 2 months to 11 years, 43% live in a home with at least one smoker and 37% of adult non-tobacco users live in a home with a smoker.
Further evidence of second hand smoke dangers are noted by Lewis (2009) who warns that non-smokers with sensitive airways will begin to experience shortness of breath, phlegm production and a cough. People with respiratory diseases, such as asthma, are at high risk for rapidly worsening symptoms. The long-term exposure to second hand smoke by nonsmokers have resulted in a significant increase in heart disease and a 20%-30% increased risk of developing lung cancer. Children who live in homes with parent’s who smoke, particularly the mother, are at greater risk for middle ear infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and even sudden infant death syndrome. Up to 300,000 yearly cases of bronchitis and pneumonia in children less than age 18 months are due to second hand smoke exposure. The worst environment for children to be exposed to second hand smoke is in their own home environment.
Winickoff (2008) reports that in the past 20 years of research on the health effects of second hand smoke, the 2006 Surgeon General’s report on the health consequences of involuntary exposure to tobacco smoke emphasizes that there is no safe level of exposure. His findings show that there are multiple health risks that are imposed on children who live in the home of a smoker. He reports that children are exposed to higher levels of second hand smoke than adults. Even with the growing of state regulations to protect workers, regulations do not protect millions of nonsmoking children from exposure to the tobacco toxins in their homes and
vehicles. Laws regulated and banning smoking have been passed by the United States Congress and many state legislatures because medical studies have proven that environmental secondary smoke pose a serious threat to all non-smokers. Federal and state courts have subsequently ruled that employers must take reasonable steps to permit smoking only in expressly designated areas. The elimination of involuntary exposure to second hand smoke in American workplaces would have a significant impact on mortality related to cancer and heart disease, and efforts to further restrict smoking have been increasing in the last two years.
The World Health Organization (2007) notes that this federal legislation regarding workplace smoking in the United States reflects a national trend of laws passed in hundreds of localities and in a majority of states recognizing the rights of non smokers to work in a smoke free environment. There are a growing number of federal, state, and municipal regulations restricting smoking in the workplace. Workplace regulations of smoking are basically divided into two categories: complete bans on smokers where the company’s employees are not permitted to smoke at any time, either on or off the job, and regulations of smoking where employees are forbidden from smoking in various parts or all of the workplace.
The Surgeon’s General Office and the Department of Health and Human Services (2006) reports that eliminating smoking in indoor spaces fully protects nonsmokers from exposure to secondhand smoke. Separating smokers from nonsmokers, cleaning the air, and ventilating buildings cannot eliminate exposures of nonsmokers to secondhand smoke. The air cleaning systems can remove large particles, but the smaller particles or the gases found in secondhand smoke cannot be removed and will travel throughout the ventilating systems.
So, what solution(s) will work to slow or stop individuals from smoking in the workplace and other public institutions to prevent the exposure of second hand smoke to non-smokers? The CDC (2008) notes that the number and restrictiveness of state laws regulating smoking in private workplaces significantly increased from 2004 to 2007, providing nonsmokers with greater protection from secondhand smoke. Twenty-two states require private sector worksites to be smoke free. The number of states with prohibitions in private sector worksites, restaurants, and bars rose from 8 to 25, and the number of states with no such prohibitions fell from 16-8. Although there have been significant efforts to control secondary smoke in the workplace and other public buildings, further laws to restrict smoking should be passed, despite objections from smokers. Those who oppose the total elimination of secondhand smoke often raise issues related to individual rights and freedoms, but the reality is that smokers can choose not to smoke, but non-smokers cannot choose not to breathe. Exposure to secondhand smoke is a very serious health issue and should be dealt with in the same manner as other environmental toxins.
To move toward a smoke free society the government, non-governmental agencies/organizations, communities, and individuals must prevent young people from starting to smoke, help smokers to quit, and to make tobacco use socially unacceptable. There are state laws which require an individual to be of legal age to purchase tobacco and inspection of retailers to verify that they are enforcing that law. There are many organizational programs in place to help the smoker to quit. For example, smoking cessation programs are offered through community churches, health institutions, and self-help groups such as smoking anonymous. There are smoking aids such as the nicotine patch, nicotine gum, nose spray, and prescription medications.
Also, tobacco smoke and second hand smoke have been proven to cause a wide range of serious diseases affecting the cardiovascular and respiratory systems of an individual. The detrimental health effects of smoking and secondary smoke have become a major issue in recent years, and in response, many states and municipalities across the nation have enacted laws prohibiting smoking in public places. These prohibitions are being expanded and a developing body of case law indicates that the courts are becoming more stringent in upholding absolute bans on smoking, not only in public places such as stadiums, restaurants and bars, but in workplaces. Furthermore, the courts are beginning to designate tobacco smoke as a toxic substance, in accordance with numerous health studies which have documented and proven beyond all dispute the hazardous health effects of smoking on both smokers and people exposed to second hand smoke including the very young. How can we solve this problem? In my utopian world our culture will finally recognize the dangerous effects of smoking and second hand smoke. We will make changes to eliminate this unhealthy habit and prevent the future generation from making the same mistakes of the past.
In this new Utopian Unites States smoking will no longer be socially acceptable in our society. We will greatly eliminate the number of individuals using or exposed to tobacco smoke by providing our citizens with educational tools explaining the harmful effects of tobacco products. Education will strengthen behavioral changes beginning in childhood. It will be the most crucial element in maintaining a smoke free environment and early education will eliminate the problem before it begins. We will remove all tobacco products from the shelves in the stores. The laws to enforce a smoke free society will be readily understood by all individuals. All homes, worksites, and public buildings will be smoke free. The citizens will be rewarded at their
workplace and by the government by remaining tobacco free. We will promote this new lifestyle by elimination of all advertising of tobacco products. Tobacco fields will be replaced with other agricultural products.
The problem of smoking and second hand smoke is important to me because it is one of the most preventable causing risk factors for lung cancer, heart disease, stroke, and asthma and other serious diseases. Also, it is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. Another reason is that many of my older family members have smoked for many years. Some of them started smoking when they were 12 or 13 and others have died from heart attacks, lung cancer, and emphysema.
If my utopian vision were to come true in the New Smoke Free U.S., the country will be a better place to live. Smoking and second hand smoke would vanish because our society will have converted tobacco fields to a healthy agricultural product. Education and behavioral modification will be available to all citizens beginning with the very young. All types of tobacco products will be eliminated in the U.S. market place. If for some reason the products arrive in the U.S. illegally, the citizens will not be punished but offered a positive reward for disposal and all other citizens will reach out to offer counseling and support. Punishment or negative rewards do not have a place in my utopian U.S. In my society the citizens will be able to live a healthier and productive life free of the hazardous chemicals of tobacco smoke which causes serious diseases. There would be no more dissention between the smoker and the nonsmoker. We would be able to look forward to a longer healthier lifestyle and freedom from the addiction cycle of nicotine. In the past, so many individuals were smoking and now are society will be smoke-free.
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