Second Hand Smoke
Should there be a ban on smoking in public places? Many people say yes, because they do not want the negative effects of second hand smoke on their lungs and other organs. Innocent people can be harmed by this second hand smoke. Since not every person chooses to smoke cigarettes, pipes, or other tobacco products, people who do not smoke should be protected from those who do. As such, rules are needed (i.e. smoking bans) that stop people from smoking in public places where others could be harmed by the smoke coming from their tobacco products. Those who choose to smoke know that there are consequences, but it is unfair to extend those consequences to others just to ensure that the “rights” of the smokers are protected. When people walk down the street and have smoke blown in their faces, or when they go to restaurants and other establishments and have to deal with the haze of smoke that permeates the air, it can make them feel bad, can cause them to get sick, and can also raise their risk of future health problems with their heart, lungs, and other bodily systems.
That is a very important consideration for these people, and a large part of the reason that second hand smoke should be avoided. The best way to avoid second hand smoke is to stay out of places that cater to smokers, but sometimes it is nearly impossible to do this and still go to all of the places one enjoys. It is not just a United States problem, either. There are hundreds of thousands of people in other countries like China where second hand smoke is a serious health problem. They are all being harmed by this smoke, and the media can and should be playing a pivotal role in talking about the virtues of quitting smoking. It often takes several attempts for a person to quit smoking once he or she has decided to do so, so the sooner a person decides to quit the better it will be for that person and for anyone who that person comes near. Protecting the health of mankind as a whole should always take precedence over the rights of smokers.
The True Cost of Smoking
While often overlooked by many people, second hand smoke is still very deadly. This is smoke that has been exhaled by a smoker, or that comes from the lit end of a pipe, cigar, or cigarette, and that is then able to be inhaled by someone else – often a nonsmoker in the vicinity. There are more than 7000 chemicals in second hand smoke, and 69 of those are known to be cancerous (Americans, 2012; Wang, 2011). In addition, 200 of those chemicals are known poisons (American, 2012; Bryant & Oliver, 2009). The United States Environmental Protection Agency has classified second hand smoke as a Group A carcinogen – a substance that causes cancer in humans (Centers, 2012; Reuters, 2012). Vehicles, bars, casinos, and even outdoor spaces are all public places where second hand smoke occurs, and it can certainly be inhaled in private places such as homes, as well. Pregnant women should not smoke, because they are exposing their unborn child to smoke hand smoke (Reuters, 2012). This increases the changes of low birth weight, stillbirth, or spontaneous abortion, along with other pregnancy and delivery problems that can appear and cause serious harm (Centers, 2012; Reuters, 2012).
Children who are exposed to second hand smoke can have severe asthma attacks, ear infections, and an increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) (Americans, 2012; Centers, 2012). Children who are 18 months old or younger make up between 150,000 and 300,000 cases of pneumonia and bronchitis yearly, all from second hand smoke (United, 2012). Additionally, second hand smoke has an effect on the cardiovascular system, and that can be seen immediately in those who do not smoke but who are subjected to it through the close-quarters smoking of other people (United, 2012). When people who do not smoke are consistently around those who do smoke, they raise their risk of heart disease by 25-30% (United, 2012). This results in an estimated 46,000 deaths from heart disease each year – and the vast majority of those could have been avoided by banning smoking in public places and by stronger education programs for people who smoke and people who are around them on a frequent basis (Centers, 2012). That way, more smokers would consider quitting and more non-smokers would choose to avoid being around smokers.
More than one billion dollars in medical care per year is spent in the United States for illnesses and deaths related to second hand smoke (Bryant & Oliver, 2009). While it is true that second hand smoke has been on the decline in the past two decades due to the laws that ban smoking, there still needs to be more knowledge and awareness about the dangers (Americans). That is especially true for people who do not have a lot of money. More than 60% of people who live below the poverty line in the United States were exposed to second hand smoke in 2007-2008 (Centers, 2012). There are substantial differences in the categories of people who are most exposed to second hand smoke, as well. Even with the decrease in the past 20 years, African-American male workers, blue collar workers, construction workers, and service workers are exposed to second hand smoke at higher rates than other categories based on race and/or job classification (Centers, 2012).
In women, one of the main concerns for second hand smoke is whether it raises the risk of breast cancer (Reuters, 2012). Studies are still ongoing on that issue. It is clear that breast milk and breast tissue do show the chemicals found in cigarette smoke when the woman is exposed to second hand smoke, but as of yet there has not been definitive proof that this is a cancer causing issue (United, 2012). In 2005, the California Environmental Protection Agency provided a study showing that second hand smoke did cause breast cancer in rodents (Dietrich, et al., 2007). That is not unexpected, but people are not rodents, and it is not possible to state that something seen to cause harm in a rodent would cause harm in a human being. Second hand smoke is no doubt dangerous, though, and can linger for a long time after the tobacco product has been extinguished and the smoker has left the area entirely.
For example, research has shown that particles of second hand smoke settle in dust and end up on all kinds of surfaces (Bryant & Oliver, 2009). These particles can remain there for months, and have been dubbed by researchers as “third hand smoke.” The second hand smoke issue has become so pervasive and problematic that in 2011, NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg signed a law banning smoking in city parks, beaches, boardwalks, and public plazas (Wang, 2011). People caught smoking in those places after the law went into effect could face fines. While advocates for cleaner, healthier air are very happy with the law and the changes it made to NYC, there are many skeptics, too. The idea that a person could be ticketed for smoking in the openness of Central Park, for example, really upsets some people. Others think that the police are looking for yet another reason to stop people and give them tickets.
NYC is not the only place where smoking bans are becoming important. In 2005, a Michigan business called Weyco banned their employees from smoking both at work and in their personal lives (Bryant & Oliver, 2009). It was not considered to be discrimination in that state, and employees could be fired if they failed a random test designed to see if they had been smoking (Bryant & Oliver, 2009). Nearly all U.S. states have some kind of smoking ban in place, most often in restaurants but also in various public places. However, many other parts of the world are still struggling with second hand smoke problems. In countries like China, for example, more than 3.5 million Chinese people could die from smoking related illnesses by 2030 (Reuters, 2012; Wang, 2011). Each year, currently, nearly 100,000 Chinese people are dying from being exposed to second hand smoke, and the citizens of that country are not being helped because the government is not working to get smokers to kick the habit or banning smoking in public places (Wang, 2011).
The media in the U.S. has shown that smoking is harmful, and that many non-smokers are also being harmed by the choices of those who smoke. However, in China and many other countries the media is not providing this type of information. Fortunately, more and more countries are seeing the value in getting people to stop smoking. Some doctors are refusing to treat smokers, and many companies are refusing to hire people who smoke because it means higher health care costs. Additionally, premiums for life insurance have increased for smokers. Because the media is willing to talk about the damage second hand smoke can cause, more people have chosen not to smoke and have taken steps to stay away from smokers so they are not risking their health.
By banning smoking in public places and educating people about the dangers of second hand smoke, governments can help their citizens live better lives. That is very important for societies, and also very important for medical professionals and health care costs. In countries like the United States, the cost of health care has gotten completely out of hand, and second hand smoke is part of the problem. The more illness and death doctors have to treat and attempt to stave off, the higher the cost to do so. When people avoid smoking and avoid being around those who smoke, they are able to stay healthier and live longer. That means they see the doctor less, and health care costs are lowered. For that reason alone, it is certainly worth banning smoking in public places.
Americans for Nonsmoker’s Rights (ANR). (2012). Retrieved from www.no-smoke.org
American Cancer Society. (2012). Tobacco and cancer- secondhand smoke. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/tobaccocancer/secondhand-smoke
Bryant, J. & Oliver, B.M. (2009). Media effects: advances in theory and research. NY: Taylor & Francis.
Centers for disease control and prevention. (CDC). (2012). Secondhand smoke facts. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/secondhand_smoke/general_facts/index.htm
Dietrich, D.F., Schwartz, J., & Schindler, C., et al. (2007). Effects of passive smoking on heart rate variability, heart rate and blood pressure: an observational study. International Journal of Epidemiology, 36(4): 834 — 40.
Reuters. (2012). Most Women Exposed To Secondhand Smoke In China, Which May Raise Pregnancy Complication Risks. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/06/women-secondhand-smoke-china-pregnancy-complicaitons_n_2081334.html
United States Surgeon General (2012). Retrieved from http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/reports/tobaccosmoke/full_report.pdf
Wang, F. (2011). China smoking deaths could triple by 2030, report warns. Retrieved from http://phys.org/news/2011-01-china-deaths-triple.html
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