La Plata Medical Society
  Thirty years ago, I never worried about secondhand smoke. I didn't smoke, but two of my surgical colleagues did and would jokingly exhale into my face.

In those days, smoking was allowed in surgical meetings and even in the hospital on Maui. One of my colleagues was quite mad when I convinced Maui Memorial Hospital to remove the cigarette machine from the lobby. In a retaliatory action, he requested the candy machine be removed because it was a bad influence for diabetics. The candy machine stayed.

Today, if a friend even jokingly blew smoke into my face, I would be mad as (expletive) because I know that he would be endangering my health. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has classified secondhand smoke as a Group A carcinogen, which means it causes cancer in humans.

About 30 years ago, the Japanese reported that women who didn't smoke, but whose husbands did, had a higher incidence of lung cancer than women whose husbands didn't smoke. The world was just starting to realize that smoking was bad for your health, but this was the first evidence that someone else's smoking was also bad for you.

Today, it is proven that in nonsmoking adults, secondhand smoke causes about 3,000 lung cancer deaths and about 40,000 deaths a year from heart disease. In addition, it produces about 300,000 lower respiratory tract infections in young children and increases the number and severity of asthmatic attacks in 1 million asthmatic children.

According to the American Cancer Society, there are more than 4,000 chemical compounds in secondhand smoke and 40 are known or suspected to cause cancer.

Secondhand smoke has been broken down into sidestream smoke - which comes from a lit cigarette, pipe or cigar - and mainstream smoke - which is exhaled by the smoker. Interestingly, the sidestream smoke contains higher concentrations of many chemicals than the mainstream smoke, which means that the smoker or the filter is absorbing these toxins: carbon monoxide, ammonia, pyridine, nitrosamines, naphthalene, aniline and many more. Therefore, the smoke coming from the lit end of a cigarette is more dangerous than the smoke that is exhaled.

It wasn't too long ago that most of the bars and restaurants in Durango allowed smoking. Through the efforts of Char Day, with the Lasso Tobacco Coalition, and the American Cancer Society, most of these are now "smoke free."

A list of "smoke free" restaurants and bars can be obtained by calling the San Juan Basin Health Department at 247-5702, ext 227. Enjoy your dinner or drinks in a healthy location.

If you must smoke, don't smoke in your house or in your car. You will be significantly hurting the health of your spouse and children. Smoke outside. Better yet, get some help to quit.

Good luck. Tobacco is as addictive as heroin and just as deadly.

Dr. John N. Withers is a practicing general surgeon in Durango.

Clinics & Groups • Pharmacies • Health Hints • Hospitals • Physicians • Back Home