Secondhand Smoke Survivor Makes the Case for SB 500
Smoke-free laws protect all citizens
By Barbara Nation
Published Saturday, March 17, 2007
I am hopeful that lawmakers will carefully consider legislation to prohibit smoking in public workplaces, sponsored by Rep. Karen Yarbrough (Sens. John Cullerton and Terry Link in the Illinois Senate), and remain focused on what this measure is all about - the health and well-being of all Illinoisans.
Over the last few months, I have been reading a lot regarding Smoke-Free Illinois and the smoking ban that has gone into effect in many areas, including Springfield. I am disturbed and alarmed that some of the letter writers believe that there is no evidence to support the fact that secondhand smoke is hazardous to anyone’s health.
I am living proof that secondhand smoke is a health hazard that has devastating consequences on your health. In 2006, the U.S. surgeon general issued a comprehensive, scientific report that shows there is no risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
Even brief exposure can cause immediate harm. In Illinois, eight people a day die from exposure to secondhand smoke. Eight people a day dying from something that can be prevented. I know from personal experience that secondhand smoke is a major health problem. Repeat: The effects of secondhand smoke are not just bothersome; they are devastating.
When I was 29 years old and the mother of a 3-year-old child, I was told I had a tumor in my lung that needed to be removed because there was a 50-50 chance it was cancerous. Being so young and with a child to raise, I said, “The sooner the better.”
The doctor asked, “So how many packs of cigarettes a day do you smoke?” I looked at him stunned and replied, “I’ve only smoked four cigarettes in my entire life and that was over nine years ago.”
He then asked if anyone I lived with smoked and again I replied, “No, my husband is a nonsmoker.” He laughed and said, “From the looks of your lungs, you must socialize with a lot of smokers because it’s hard to believe you don’t smoke.” He asked me if any of my relatives smoked and I told him they did. He asked if any of my co-workers smoked and I told him they did. In fact, I was working in a 10-foot by 6-foot cubicle with a chain smoker. He then shook his head and said, “After we remove this tumor, I’d strongly suggest you change jobs as soon as possible and limit exposure to secondhand smoke.”
I was operated on the following Monday. It was determined to be a benign tumor; however, I lost the better part of my right lung. A couple of years later, I was diagnosed with asthma, which complicated my lung problems and was eventually diagnosed with chronic bronchiolitis. I now need oxygen to sleep at night, to walk around the mall, to exercise - in short, to live my life.
I cannot sit in a smoking section of a restaurant because I don’t have any more lung capacity to give up to someone who really doesn’t care if I live or die. I know that smoking is an addiction. I know quitting is tough. But smokers can quit. I have no choice, I have to breathe. When they smoke, I can’t breathe.
It’s not an either/or issue. In addition, some people may not understand that you need air to swallow. If you don’t get the right amount of air, you can’t swallow. It’s a horrible feeling when you can’t breathe. Now, add to that not being able to swallow. Everything swirls in slow motion. In the past, I stayed at home or took my life in my hands when eating where smoking and nonsmoking sections truly had nothing separating one from the other.
Illinois should protect all of its citizens - many workers have no choice about where they work. As a young mother, I know that I really didn’t have much of a choice at the time. (And that was before we knew just how dangerous secondhand smoke really is!) No one should have to make a choice between health, which can be destroyed forever, and making a living.
I am grateful to the Springfield City Council and Sangamon County Board for saying no to smoking - and sticking with that decision. You’ve not only made my life so much easier, you’ve probably extended it by a few more years.
I urge all lawmakers to vote to make Illinois a 100 percent smoke-free state. Citizens of this great state must also take action. Write your lawmakers, call their offices and let your voice be heard, write your local papers - the lives, health and general well-being of so many hangs in the balance.
Barbara Nation recently testified before the House committee hearing on this legislation (House Bill 246/Senate Bill 500). This column is derived from that testimony.