A smoking-hot issue | PostIndependent.com

A smoking-hot issue

When I was a little girl, I wanted my aunt to quit smoking. So I planted these little metal American Lung Association buttons given out at school all over her farm house.

I have a feeling she wasn’t amused.

I remember hiding them in her drawers and medicine cabinets, behind picture frames and on top of dressers. I’m sure she came across them before she had her morning coffee or when she was getting ready for bed.

Again, probably not so cute.

I did it because I loved her and had learned in health class the dangers of smoking. The ’80s war on drugs and “Just Say No”-heavy after-school specials had a way of scaring kids straight. Hearing warnings like smoking causes lung cancer, and ultimately death, can have a serious impact on young ears. I can also still see in my head those photos of how nasty lungs can get due to smoking.

Now that was scary.

When I was an ’80s kid learning the dangers of nicotine, smoking was more prevalent than today. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 33.2 percent of the population were smokers in 1980. Luckily for our state of health, surveys by the CDC report that current smoking has declined from nearly 21 of every 100 adults (20.9 percent) in 2005 to nearly 17 of every 100 adults (16.8 percent) in 2014. Smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., causing over 438,000 deaths per year, says the American Lung Association.

Hammering scary statistics into smokers’ heads isn’t necessarily the way to change behavior. Sometimes it takes seeing loved ones suffer from chronic diseases caused by smoking, including cancer and lung diseases such as COPD, emphysema and chronic bronchitis, to open our eyes. My own (great) Grandpa Wilson was a lifetime smoker who succumbed to his emphysema-related symptoms and heart problems. I remember his mobility was restricted mostly to the recliner in his living room where his oxygen tanks kept him breathing more easily. He started smoking well before there were ever conversations about the health risks.

My mom remembers her family doctor smoking in his office during visits.

Today, smoking has a much different stigma. My generation and older remember the days when restaurants offered smoking and non-smoking sections for seating. Now restaurants and bars ban smoking indoors. Airplanes were once free of smoking restrictions. In such constricted spaces, and with allergies so commonplace, it’s hard to imagine now. Especially during long flights cross-country, in our crammed seats. It wasn’t too long ago I flew in airplanes that still had ashtrays on the arm handles.

I’d get a little nervous if I boarded one today with that available feature.

Communities, including Glenwood Springs, are now on board to ban the habit within their public spaces. Last year, Boulder adopted an outdoor ban restricting smoking in the downtown business district, city parks, open space or within 25 feet of bus stops, multi-use paths, and building entrances.

In listening to concerned residents, visitors and business owners, the Glenwood Springs City Council has followed suit. The council voted unanimously on the first reading of an ordinance to impose an outdoor smoking ban that extends to the downtown core area, public parks and recreation areas, and within 25 feet of transit stops and common, active or passive open space.

This issue can be as divisive as any of the big ones in our political landscape. Smokers, and those who support smoking in public, believe it all comes down to rights. Those who don’t appreciate cleaning up discarded cigarettes outside their businesses and residential areas or inhaling second-hand smoke also feel they have the right not to have to do so. I can see the conversation from both points of view, and am honestly not sure what I feel. Of course I see the dangers in second hand-smoke, and I hope smoking continues to decline because of the toll it has on our overall health.

I also appreciate the idea that America is the land of the free.

So if I want to wear a prevent lung cancer button, or even one that says I give free hugs to strangers, I can. Where do you stand?

April E. Clark never convinced her aunt to quit smoking. She (April) can be reached at aprilelizabethclark@gmail.com.

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