First the disclaimer: I fully realize this column is probably not going to change anyone’s habits. If the surgeon general and graphic cancer ads can’t convince a person to stop smoking, 847 words in a local newspaper sure can’t. Nicotine is a powerful and addictive drug. The tobacco companies are powerful and rich. This combo seldom makes for honorable behavior. If I hope to do anything here, it is to light a spark of recognition in those who choose to smoke, perhaps inducing them to reflect on what their addiction does to others. Again, I appreciate that when a person is in the ravening clutch of a nicotine jones, concern for others is so faint as to be indiscernible. There is only the next cigarette. And the next. And the next.
Those of us who don’t smoke don’t have much choice in what we breathe. We have to breathe the same air the smokers are exhaling into. Frankly, it stinks. Literally and figuratively. Following a madly puffing addict down the street means anyone in trail is treated to that second-hand smoke. For some, it’s just extremely unpleasant. The unpleasantness stems from the smell and pollution and knowledge that a perfect stranger is trying their oblivious best to inflict upon us a host of devastating diseases. For others, it’s a matter of life and breath, in every possible sense of the words.
Reactive airways dysfunction syndrome (RADS) plagues over nine per cent of the adult population and fifteen per cent of the children in this country. In parts of the world, over half of the children are affected. These are not insignificant numbers. Cigarette smoke is one of the triggers of an attack. Sufferers so afflicted are utterly at the whim of the people around them. A smoker who lights up in a public place can set into motion a cascade of events leading to discomfort at best and hospitalization at worst in someone with RADS. Crossing the street to avoid a smoker is certainly an option. An entirely frustrating and inconvenient option, granted. The notion that a person should have to alter their course to avoid thoughtlessly produced noxious fumes is an outrage. But at least the choice is there. Consider the circumstance in which smokers huddle around a door…frequently the only door in sight … creating a malignant miasma though which others are forced to navigate. Laws abound prohibiting smokers from doing the deed within so many feet of an entry door. As Frank Zappa astutely (not to mention correctly) pointed out, the United States is a nation of laws, badly written and randomly enforced. Is there a single case on record of this particular law being enforced? I didn’t think so.
Frequently compounding the crime (and, the gutting of the EPA notwithstanding, polluting the air is still actionable) is what happens when the addict is finished with his or her momentary fix. All too often, the butt is flung carelessly to the ground, still lit. Obviously, someone willing to purposefully pollute the air is not going to feel much compunction at polluting the earth as well. The sheer rudeness, the lack of concern, the absence of any sense of community that enables the smoker to think the rest of us enjoy wallowing around in their smoldering trash is beyond my ability of comprehend. If ever there was an action that screams, “I’m getting my gratification and to hell with the rest of you” it is smoking. A cigarette filter is mostly plasticized cellulose acetate. Depending upon the ambient conditions, it can take anywhere from eighteen months to 10 years to biodegrade. That is a lot of biodegrading.
Discarded cigarette butts are one of the biggest causes of forest fires. Even with a slew of PSAs and education and intervention, just ten years ago cigarettes were the source of over 130,000 fires. Cigarettes are the culprit in 20 percent of all fire deaths.
Last Sunday I had the misfortune to need to go to the grocery. I rarely give unsolicited advice but I’ll make an exception here. Never go to the grocery on Sunday afternoon. My friend (who has RADS) and I had the extreme unluckiness to follow a young woman down the sidewalk. She was blissfully puffing away, totally ignoring my friend’s choking cough. Smokers seem to have a very deaf ear, or perhaps no ear at all, when it comes to noticing their effect on the innocent bystander. She continued to smoke until she was in the doorway of the store, walking past two butt receptacles in the process. Once she had one foot inside, she turned around and threw the lit butt on the ground. There are far better and more pleasant ways to commit suicide than smoking and I was on the cusp of wishing she would discover one of them.
The older I get, the less tolerant I become of people trying to kill me. Mother Nature is doing plenty to accelerate my decline. I would rather she not get an assist from someone with an intractable habit.
Marla Boone resides in Covington and writes for Miami Valley Today.