Clearing the Air

These papers are dedicated to my spouse and partner of fifteen years who was forced to spend too many of his last days in a struggle to find clean air to breathe. These papers are dedicated to the millions of people who don’t dance because there is no smoke-free dance hall, to the millions who eat at home because there are no smoke free restaurants, to the millions who arrive at their destinations after long airline flights with headaches, sinus infections, ear infections, asthma attacks and vomiting because there were no non-smoking international flights available. These papers are dedicated to the millions of people with HIV, heart and lung diseases, asthma and other chronic illness who when requesting a smoke-free environment, have been told, “It’s not my fault you are ill!” These papers are dedicated to the idea that we all have a basic right to live and work and socialize in an environment which does not endanger our health. The days of romanticizing tobacco use are over. The hard reality as we approach the end of the twentieth century is that there are places on the earth now where a person with respiratory problems cannot find clean air indoors or outdoors. This must and will change!

Recent studies which prove the connection of secondhand smoke to smoking related diseases in persons who do not smoke tobacco products have led to numerous lawsuits and new regulations about smoking in public places. Even before these studies were conclusive there were examples of non-tobacco users who developed smoking related diseases because of exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace. The most obvious example is the airline industry where the high rate of smoking related diseases among non-tobacco users prompted the industry to create non-smoking flights. It was the advent of the non-smoking flight that proved the suspicions of many non-smoking travelers that their travel discomforts were created by the presence of tobacco smoke.
The definition of a non-smoker must be a person who is not repeatedly exposed to high concentrations of tobacco smoke. Studies which use non-tobacco users who are repeatedly exposed to tobacco smoke may be misled by the results and assume there is little difference between smokers and non-smokers. When compared to results of studies using persons who live in smokefree environments, the earlier studies can only be seen as further evidence of the high risk of exposure to secondhand smoke. “Secondhand smoke contains more than 4,600 chemicals, including cyanide, arsenic, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and ammonia. Some of these chemicals are more highly concentrated in secondhand smoke than in smoke inhaled by the smoker for two reasons: First, when a smoker inhales, the tobacco burns at a higher temperature and harmful substances are more completely combusted; and, Second, the smoke inhaled by the smoker is filtered by the cigarette.” “Secondhand smoke can cause indoor air pollution which is up to six times higher than standards allow for outdoor air. In studies, cigarette smoke often led to carbon monoxide concentrations above nine parts per million and always exceeded the standard for particulates.”
United States Environmental Protection Agency studies have concluded that, “exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke is casually associated with an increased risk of lower respiratory tract infections... such as bronchitis and pneumonia.” Other studies have concluded that, “individuals with heart or lung disease generally have reduced reserve capacity available for transporting oxygen to their body tissues. People with coronary artery disease exposed to secondhand smoke experience angina pectoris after shorter periods of exercise than when breathing clean air. Children of smoking parents have more respiratory illnesses and chronic ear problems, asthma and other allergic problems than children of non-smoking parents. The lung function of adult non-smokers working in smoky workplaces is impaired to the same extent as light smokers when compared to persons living and working in smokefree environments.”

The tobacco industry and smokers have accused the non-smoking movement of trying to control personal behavior. There is nothing personal about polluting the air we breathe. On the contrary, it has been the tobacco companies and smokers who have tried to censor information from legitimate studies on the relationship of tobacco smoke to disease. It has been the cultural acceptance of tobacco use in public that has put an unfair burden on the non-tobacco user. The non-smoking movement is about the right of all people to live and work and socialize in an environment which does not endanger their health. The idea that banning smoking in public places is an infringement on the rights of smokers is absolutely absurd. It is the cigarette which has been banned from public places, not the smoker! A smoker can go to a non-smoking environment as long as she or he does not smoke in that environment. When a non-smoker goes into a smoking environment however, he or she becomes an involuntary smoker. Thomas Paine once said, “Your right to extend your arm ends at my nose.”
The struggle of the non-smoking movement has been a struggle to get the decision making and enforcement issues out of the hands of smokers and the tobacco companies. For more than thirty years the tobacco industry has used deception, intimidation through economic pressure, and suppression of scientific data to keep the idea that smoking is a personal and sometimes cultural choice. Within the non-smoking zone of the Berlin subway system, for example, you can find ashtrays, tobacco billboards, cigarette vending machines, tobacco shops, smoking passengers and subway employees, and hundreds of thousands of cigarette butts in the tracks. Even though some awareness of the risk of secondhand smoke was responsible for a government agency to create a no-smoking zone, cultural acceptance makes it difficult to enforce. When a non-smoker asks smokers to stop smoking he or she is met with anger, and even a complaint to officials brings no resolution for they too are smokers. This attitude is a result of thirty years of propaganda worldwide by tobacco companies who intentionally misled smokers to believe that smoking is not addictive and does not cause disease.
In 1989 when the Berlin wall came down, Berlin and Eastern Europe were besieged by tobacco companies with their eyes on new markets to make up for losses in the West because of the non-smoking movement. Internal memos from the tobacco companies showed a deliberate attempt to get 12 to 14 year-old boys addicted to cigarettes because they would be the wage earners of the future. People were paid to stand on streets in the East to hand out free cigarettes to young boys. The tobacco industries promoted the idea that smoking was an expression of freedom and used the fascination of everything “Western” to their advantage.

Tobacco was introduced to Europe from America in the early sixteenth century. The first ill effects from tobacco were recorded in the mid-seventeenth century and the first case of tobacco related cancer was recorded in the late eighteenth century. On May 12, 1994, Professor Stanton Glantz at the University of California, San Francisco received a box containing 4,000 pages of secret internal tobacco industry documents. These documents provide a candid view of thirty years inside the tobacco industry.
More than a quarter of a century ago tobacco industry scientists discovered that nicotine was an addictive drug and people smoked to maintain a target level of nicotine in their bodies. They kept their findings secret, and to this day deny that nicotine is addictive. A recent Italian study showed that nicotine effects the same addictive part of the brain as heroin and cocaine.
Tobacco industry scientists also knew early on that tobacco caused life threatening diseases, but kept these findings secret from public health officials for fear of government regulation. The tobacco industry scientists devoted their initial research to removing toxins while leaving the addictive nicotine. When research revealed that a safe cigarette could not be developed, the industry devoted all of their money and energy to suppressing information, deceiving the public and protecting themselves from lawsuits. Tobacco lawyers then took control of all scientific research to minimize litigation and government regulation.
The release of the secret tobacco documents has led to strict new regulations about smoking in public buildings in the U.S. A positive side effect of these new regulations is the fact that many people who wanted to quit smoking, but couldn’t break the addiction, now report that they have been able to successfully quit because they are no longer exposed to public smoke. The second effect of the new laws is the fact that it is now possible to do smoking studies using persons who live in totally smoke free environments.

The San Francisco Lesbigay Smokefree Project
San Francisco Department of Health
Americans For Nonsmoker’s Rights
American Lung Association
United States Environmental Protection Agency
St. Mary’s Hospital, London, England
Champaign Urbana News-Gazette (Illinois)
The U.S. Surgeon General
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control
National Institute of Occupational Safety & Health
National Cancer Institute
The San Francisco Men’s Health Study (U. C. Berkeley)
The Cigarette Papers , Stanton A Glanz

compiled by Robert W. Starkey