Prior to my mother’s decision to stop smoking in 2010, she smoked every day. Virginia Slims were her favorite. As a child, I remember standing next to her in many drug stores as she asked the sales clerk for “a pack of Virginia Slims Light Menthol.” The all-white carton with green detailing was a package I had grown to know too well.
She tried quitting. Twice. But the after effects, to her, seemed worse than the consequences caused by smoking. She attempted to quit cold turkey, replacing her slim white sticks of nicotine with Red Hots candy. That didn’t work. She tried the patch. No luck. Each time she quit, she gained weight and experienced mood swings that were not only hard for her, but also the people around her, to deal with. Her final attempt to quit smoking was a plea from one of her closest friends. When my godmother was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, she asked my mother for one thing — to please stop smoking. My mother hasn’t consumed a cigarette since.
I’m proud of her accomplishment. It didn’t take her own health concerns to stop her from smoking. Nor did it take an ordinance like the one recently passed in Washington. It took her knowing how her smoking affected someone else to change her habit.
Should a city be allowed to instruct the health of other’s lives? If an individual decides to temporarily burn their lungs for the sake of the relaxation or minimal high should the city be at fault? Probably not. Nonetheless, it is the smoke exhaled, not inhaled that becomes problematic.
In the amending of the Washington Smoke-Free Air Act of 2013, the ordinance lists the detrimental health effects caused by secondhand smoke. Referencing the 2006 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, the ordinance states that secondhand smoke causes effects such as, disease and premature death in children and adults, sudden infant death syndrome and coronary heart disease and lung cancer in adults. The ordinance also references the 2010 U.S. Surgeon General’s Report, which states that even occasional exposure to secondhand smoke causes effects such as “rapid and sharp increase in dysfunction and inflammation of the lining of blood vessels, which are implicated in heart attacks and strokes.”
This is where the problem lies. It may be very well that a city should not control a person’s use of cigarettes. Nonetheless, an innocent child or an adult who does not smoke should not have to compromise their health and public spaces of enjoyment for the sake of someone else’s poor health choices.
I’m not a Washington resident, but for this law I am thankful. I’m happy to know that if visiting a local bar in Washington, I can enjoy an apple martini without a cloud of smoke getting blown in my face. That I can rent a room in the local hotel without the stench of smoke lining the pillows and sheets. That I can visit the shopping centers and not be asked continuously by those annoying salespeople at the kiosk, inhaling and exhaling smoke from ridiculous e-cigarettes, if I smoke. (Once, in a St. Louis mall, when asked if I smoked, I responded “no.” As I walked off the sales-person responded, “Well, that’s good.”)
Yes, it is good. However, I’m sure the kiosk man would think that his use of e-cigarettes was not so good if he knew that, as referenced in the ordinance, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) tested e-cigarettes and found that they included not only nicotine, but also carcinogens and toxic chemicals. Furthermore, the FDA also found that the smoke emitted from e-cigarettes may be as harmful as the smoke emitted from traditional tobacco products.
For my mother, the harm wasn’t in the smoke she exhaled in the air, the harm was caused by my godmother’s presumption that if my mother continued to smoke, she would deal with fatal consequences that would affect her health and the health of others. So, my mother quit. Now, as citizens of Washington put out their cigarette butts, I hope that they are doing so not only for their sake, but also for the sake of others around them.
When I take my anticipated trip to Washington, I hope to walk through the shopping centers and pass the nearby playground and breathe in deeply, knowing that the air I inhale is rid of cigarette smoke. Then I’ll smile happily, as I am reminded of my mother’s feat of putting out her last cigarette butt.