For the past three hundred years, major companies have been releasing deadly chemicals into the environment that are likely to kill many Americans. Carbon monoxide and arsenic are just a couple of these toxins. These deadly chemicals are coming from one seemingly innocent source ... cigarettes. However, this source is not innocent, and the chemicals are not harmless. In fact, they're harming everyone - smokers and non-smokers. Smoking in public places is an extremely controversial subject. Are smokers being censured because of their habit? Have anti-smoking measures gone too far? Do smokers take advantage of their rights? And does the government have to make changes in smoking laws? All of these questions can be looked at from more than one perspective, but one thing is certain - passive smoke is harming this generation and the next and people feel it will keep on harming all who breathe.
According to the Environment Protection Agency's January 7, 1993 report summary, environment tobacco smoke (also known as second-hand smoke) presents an extremely serious health impact on the people of the United States. Tobacco smoke is a human lung carcinogen, responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually in non-smokers. A separate report, commissioned by the EPA and endorsed by the American Medical Association in 1994, concluded that passive cigarette smoke causes 53,000 deaths from heart disease a year in non-smokers. There are also dangers that directly affect children. Environmental tobacco smoke is a risk factor for new cases of asthma in children, and 1,000,000 asthmatic children have their condition worsened because of exposure to second-hand smoke.
Additionally, according to the National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine, studies show that anyone breathing passive smoke may experience the annoying symptoms of a runny nose, eye irritation, sneezing, headaches and coughing. You may think that this isn't such a big deal, but there are people who have even more severe problems - newborns, children, teens, people with asthma and respiratory problems, and even unborn babies. As a matter of fact, all non-smokers are at risk, and breathing passive smoke is nearly impossible to avoid.
Consequently, states and localities are cracking down on smoking even more aggressively. In May, Maryland made the tightest statewide restrictions in the nation by banning smoking in almost all workplaces except sealed, separately ventilated rooms. Many non-smokers want to make this statewide law nationwide.
A smoker's right to light up in public is much debated. Smokers feel that their rights are being taken away. Or are non-smokers the ones whose rights are being violated by being forced to breathe passive smoke? Compromises are being made, laws are being passed, and the public is being made aware of the underlying danger of environmental tobacco smoke. However, as controversial as this issue is, people must realize that passive smoke is harming people today and will harm people tomorrow. We must band together as the children of today and the future leaders of the 21st century and abolish smoking for good. Smoking should and must be banned in all public places. There are no ifs, ands, or "butts" - a smoker's rights end where yours begin. t
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.