Second-hand smoke leaves visible scars

Kathie Cheney

Peachtree City

To see what second-hand smoke does to the nonsmoker, you just have to look at the scars on my neck.

On the right side of my throat, you can see the smoker's throat cancer scar from years of inhaling smoke in my workplace in our airplanes as a flight attendant (our 15 years of smoke-free skies came too late for me). You can't see the debilitating long-term fatigue that destroyed my life as I knew it, the reminder of the radiation therapy for my already spreading cancer. Fatigue turned me from being an asset to my family into a liability and I must watch daily the price they pay for my inhaling other people's smoke.

On the left side of my throat is the scar from a repaired clogged carotid artery. With no symptoms, no risk factors, my always-perfect cholesterol counts could not stop the 90 percent blockage (with plaque breaking off and being swept into my brain). This was found by luck, because I was included in my husband's POW Medical Study. They chose to study carotid arteries one year and discovered my blockage. Insurance will not cover ultrasounds without symptoms or risk factors.

Last April, the CDC warned as little as 30 minutes' exposure can trigger a heart attack (or in my case, a stroke) in a nonsmoker.

With 65-plus million baby boomers starting to turn 60 next year, we cannot afford to keep ignoring this danger.

The seeds of so many cancers, lung diseases, clogged arteries and more take time to show up so it took years to identify make the connection to secondhand smoke. A connection that took even longer to establish because of cover-ups by the tobacco industry.

Today's businesses use filters to hide the smell of the smoke, while returning the chemicals that t kill back into their businesses (to save heating and cooling costs). It is profitable to ignore the damage caused by second-hand smoke.

Our indoor air is like the glasses in our restaurants.

You cannot see the bacteria, the carcinogens, the chemicals that sicken and kill others. The damage walks out the door, hidden silently inside the unknowing victims, not the concern of the business owner until required by law.

We rely on our public health regulations to prevent the needless spread of diseases from one person to another in our businesses. These corners should not get cut just to save profits. Just like with drunken driving, when it comes to public health we must set reasonable boundaries. Second-hand smoke shows what happens too often when it is just left up to the business owner. Danger is ignored to protect profits.

By requiring all to play by the same rules, the public health regulations create a level playing field.

The Smoke-Free Air Act does not tell people they cannot smoke; it simply does not allow smoke to spoil the air we all breathe in public places and workplaces. It just limits the damage to only the smokers. It requires responsible business practices.

Why is that too much to ask?

Kathie Cheney, a resident of Peachtree City, is a volunteer for the Georgia Alliance for Tobacco Prevention.