The case against tobacco |

The case against tobacco

Common sense and logic are often the benchmark for change. It just takes time.

Case in point. We know, and have known for some time, that tobacco is deadly. It is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States and in Colorado. About 4,600 Colorado adults will die each year from tobacco-related diseases and derail the lives of the families that loved them.

Preventing tobacco use among youth has been a primary focus in my work. Tobacco use and subsequent addiction take root in adolescence. Each year in Colorado, 10,800 youth under the age of 18 will become daily smokers.

The age of initiation for tobacco use in Colorado is a mere 11 years old. These young children become addicted to tobacco sometimes within weeks of their first cigarette.

Addiction to tobacco is an insidious, sly side effect that happens when they think they are merely smoking to be cool. It is an open secret that tobacco is more addicting than either heroin or cocaine. For most smokers and spit-tobacco users, youth and adult, quitting not only represents emotional and psychological challenges, it causes real pain.

I speak with many people every day about cessation support, and I can honestly say I have never had a smoker tell me that he or she regrets the day he or she stopped smoking.

Secondhand smoke, the byproduct of cigarette use, has been in the forefront of recent discussions in Summit County.

Much scientific data has been produced on the dangers of secondhand smoke. The Environmental Protection Agency has identified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen (cancer-

causing substance) like asbestos.

It is the third-most-preventable cause of death and disease in Colorado. Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including arsenic, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide and radioactive elements. More than 60 of these chemicals have been identified as carcinogens.

Make no mistake about it. Secondhand smoke is deadly. It is scientifically proven to cause cancer, heart disease, respiratory illness and claims 53,000 American lives each year. Exposure to secondhand smoke can compromise the cardiovascular system by reducing blood flow to the heart in just 30 minutes.

Children are especially vulnerable to the choices adults make about smoking. Most cannot escape smoke-filled homes or cars. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the chances that children will suffer from coughs, wheezing, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, potentially fatal lower respiratory tract infections, or eye and ear problems.

It causes low birthweight and an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome.

There are no lives that are worth less than yours or mine. Yet, secondhand smoke levels in restaurants and bars pose a significant health problem to all who enter them. Even brief exposure is dangerous. A smoke-filled room can contain up to six times the air pollution of a busy highway.

Let us not forget the many owners, managers and workers in our Summit County restaurants whose health is significantly jeopardized everyday. The risk of lung cancer increases 34 percent when exposed to secondhand smoke on the job.

Laws exist to protect workers and the public from dangerous chemicals such as asbestos, pesticides and radon. There are laws protecting restaurant patrons from hair follicles falling into their food and laws requiring restaurant workers to wash their hands before touching food to prevent the passage of germs.

Yet, there are no laws protecting restaurant workers from breathing the equivalent of one and a half to two packs of cigarettes during a shift in a smoke-filled restaurant or bar.

Ventilation systems have long been regarded as the answer to secondhand smoke exposure. Only recently have studies concluded that there is no safe level of secondhand smoke and there are no ventilation systems that eliminate the health risks attributed to secondhand smoke.

Ventilation systems reduce the immediate odor of tobacco smoke. They don’t remove heavy carcinogenic particles from the carpet, walls, curtains and air in a restaurant.

Logic tells us that if smoking is harmful to your health,then secondhand smoke is, too. Maybe it just takes time to make sense out of all of this.

Laurie Blackwell is the tobacco prevention coordinator for the Summit Prevention Alliance. She can be reached at (970) 668-2077, or by e-mail at

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