One local group is working to educate the community on the dangers of secondhand smoke and advocating for the need for smoke-free workplaces.
Established earlier this year, the Breathe Easy Washington Coalition has a contingency of about 20 people and is chaired by Joette Reidy, Washington. Joyce Lara, also of Washington, is the youth coordinator for Tobacco Free Missouri through the University of Missouri Department of Family and Community Medicine.
Lara works on tobacco issues and has assisted Kirksville and Chillicothe in going smoke-free in 2007 and 2008, respectively.
The group began with Kevin Cundiff, a Washington resident, who wanted to get a group together that would focus on the health aspect of smoking and hoped Washington would become smoke-free.
Reidy and Lara have different reasons for advocating for Washington to be smoke-free. Lara has allergies affected by smoke, which makes it difficult for her to breathe in smoky environments. Reidy’s father recently passed away from smoking-related issues.
“His exact illness wasn’t smoking-related, but he wasn’t able to recuperate from his health issues because his lungs were so damaged from smoking,” Reidy said.
Focus on Education
To educate the community, members of Breathe Easy Washington have created radio and movie theater ads and billboards, as well as attend public events to educate others about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
One of the group’s signs reads: “Everyone has the right to breathe smoke-free indoor air.” A billboard with a local waitress on it poses the question “The smoke will wash out of her clothes, but what about her lungs?”
The group also hosts “smoke-free happy hours” at local businesses. Along with area high school students, the coalition presented “Smoke Free Establishment” awards to local businesses that are smoke-free.
The ultimate goal, Reidy said, is “to see Washington pass a smoke-free ordinance that would include all public indoor spaces,” even places that currently have filters.
“Secondhand smoke travels through the filters,” Reidy said. “The filters take out the visual effects and the odor, but it doesn’t take out 50 cancer-causing chemicals. The hazards are still there — you just can’t see them or smell them.”
Additionally, there are more than 7,000 chemicals and 50 cancer-causing carcinogens in secondhand smoke, many of which are proven to cause health problems.
Reidy, who only eats at smoke-free restaurants, admitted that eating out has become more difficult. Each Sunday, her family eats out after church. Her son’s favorite restaurants include a smoking section.
“His top four choices we no longer visit,” she said. “There is no gray area. There are no safe levels of secondhand smoke”
Studies show, Reidy said, that comprehensive smoke-free workplace policies have no negative impacts on businesses and benefit the health of workers by decreasing absenteeism, reducing janitorial and maintenance costs, lowering insurance rates and resulting in fewer smoking-related fires.
Lara agreed that any smoke-free ordinance would be solely in concern of health issues.
“It’s not about rights. It’s about a standard of health,” Lara said.
To date, 27 states and more than 20 communities in Missouri have smoking bans, Reidy said. Additionally, the national president of the Veterans of Foreign Wars have reached out asking organizations to look deeply at the smoking issue.
To support Breathe Easy Washington, businesses and people can sign a support form. The form is not a petition, Reidy said, adding that many people who smoke have signed the form. So far, about 1,500 people have signed.
For more information, people can visit BreatheEasyWashMo.org or Breathe Easy Washington on Facebook.
The Breathe Easy Washington Coalition meets monthly, but dates and times are rotated, Reidy noted. Meetings will be posted on the Facebook page.