Secondhand Smoke

As smokers, nicotine’s two-hour chemical half-life inside our bloodstream was the basic clock governing our next mandatory feeding time. Nicotine is simply a chemical. As such it cannot think, plan, plot or conspire. When feeding time arrived and the alarm sounded it didn’t matter where we were or who we were with, it was time to light another fire between our lips, a fire that would release more than 500 gases and 3,500 chemical particles, including at least 43 known cancer causing chemicals.

We each had an absolute right to trade an endless stream of nicotine-rich burning toxic waste dumps for neurochemical freedom, declining health and a 50% chance of roughly 5,000 fewer sunrises. But did we also have a right to inflict very real damage upon the circulatory and respiratory systems of those who happened to be present when our feeding alarm sounded? While engaged in our own senseless self-destruction and intentionally committing slow suicide in open public, did we also have the right to intentionally inflict known harms upon others?

Whether we’ve arrested our dependency or it has arrested us, we each remain true drug addicts, either facing that next mandatory feeding or just one powerful puff of nicotine away from again having to do so. While still under the influence, most of us naturally feared losing the convenience of being able to quickly elevate our falling blood-serum nicotine level, and many of us fought loud and hard to stop society from increasingly treating us as social rejects and outcasts, as if we had leprosy.

But once we master the law of addiction and develop a full appreciation for the power of one puff, once we become the jailor and our dependency our prisoner, once we come out from under the influence of what many experts now regard as the most captivating chemical on earth, it isn’t so hard to see that as an actively feeding addict I was extremely selfish, insensitive, and uncaring in putting my convenience above the health of family and friends who cared for me so much that they were willing to endure harm to their own bodies so that this drug addict could remain comfortable within his skin.

The anti-smoking zealot is wrong to see and treat the nicotine addict as the enemy. Our only crime is that ninety percent of us became chemically dependent as children or teens. But our re-wired brains could easily have been theirs.

To this day, narrow-minded anti-smoking organizations turn their heads to a nicotine addiction industry that daily bombards young impressionable minds with such lies as adults smoke for taste, flavor, pleasure, adventure, to make friends, or because they like to “stir the senses,” when in truth 90% are chemically addicted under DSM mental health standards and smoke because it hurts when they don’t. Instead of fighting how we got here they instead focus tremendous disdain upon who we each quickly became.

This month (Nov. 2004) Philip Morris is unfolding its campaign to celebrate Marlboro’s fifty year anniversary, bringing back Marlboro’s marketing theme “Come to where the flavor is.” If 90% of Marlboro customers are true drug addicts under DSM III standards then isn’t Marlboro sending youth the message that adults smoke for “flavor” extremely dishonest? Isn’t it in stark contrast to Philip Morris’ representation on page 4 of its free booklet entitled “Raising kids who don’t smoke” where it states, “Symptoms of addition (having strong urgers to smoke, feeling anxious or irritable, or having unsuccessfully tried not to smoke) can appear in teens and preteens within … only days after they become ‘occassional’ smokers?” Why not attack the message instead of those falling for it?

Isn’t a hate-filled heart that neglects the air breathed by those chemically enslaved as wrong as a mind so focused on feeding an addiction that it’s willing to compromise the health of those sharing its air? Sadly, here in the U.S., health policymakers are so out of touch with reality that they continue to give anti-smoking groups millions in public funds intended for the creation of new effective smoking cessation programs, programs that will never see light of day. Their enemy is the smoker and the very last thing they’ll ever do is give comfort, aid or assistance to the enemy.

Amazingly, thousands within public health see smokers as the enemy, see a heart attack, emphysema or lung cancer as their just dessert, and would rather tax them to death than spend one penny to save help save us. Search as you might, and even though lung cancer kills more women each year than breast cancer, you will be hard pressed to find any public health official engaged in lung cancer awareness campaigns, fighting to establish lung cancer survivor networks or handing out pink lung cancer awareness ribbons on a special day each year. Sadly, in their warped minds, those addicted to smoking nicotine get exactly what they get deserve – death 14 years early for half of us.

Secondhand smoke is not a battle between “us and them.” It’s a battle for public health – all of the public. As much as we need to awaken our brother and sister smokers to the impact of forcing others to breath our addiction, we must awaken those championing clean indoor air to the realization that the solution is love not hate, education not isolation, and assistance not resistance. We need to teach them that the moment a child or teen succumbs to the pressures and influence of years of tobacco industry marketing, that the lies, not the child, are the enemy.

Secondhand smoke is a symptom not the problem. The problem is dependency ignorance and a community climate that breeds youth and young adult nicotine dependency. Look closely above the candy racks in your neighborhood convenience store. Do you really think the tobacco ads are there by chance? What goes through the mind of a twelve year-old when day after day windows in grocery stores, gas stations and even the neighborhood pharmacy tell them that life without tobacco isn’t living?

Walk into any school library frequented by teenagers and slowly thumb through magazines like Popular Science, Popular Mechanics, Road & Track, Outdoor Life, Field & Stream, People Magazine, Sports Illustrated, Time or Newsweek. Yes, even inside their schools they’re being hit and hit hard and it isn’t happening by chance.

Look at the mailing label on the front and the word “School.” All of the above magazines have had the ability for at least a decade to use a process called “selective binding” to immediately remove all tobacco ads from any magazine headed to any destination with just a few taps on a keyboard.

They’re there because Time Inc., and its 130+ magazine empire, makes megabucks for putting them there. Do you really think it’s coincidence that Time Warner CEO Richard Parsons served on Philip Morris’ board of directors for a decade or that a former Philip Morris CEO also today serves on its board? The tobacco industry must have a means to harvest replacement smokers for the five million killed annually or profits will suffer.

While there, ask school officials and teachers about the growing array of flavored nicotine replacement products finding their way into their school. Kids no longer need to smoke nicotine in bathrooms. They’re chewing or sucking it in class and NRT is increasingly becoming the entry vehicle addicting a new generation of youth.

A victory by the forces for clean indoor air that ignores dependency prevention and nicotine cessation is not just shallow but lacks sincerity on the issue of health. Every bit as permanent as alcoholism, and de-sensitizing many of the exact same brain pathways as all drugs of addiction, it makes absolutely no sense to use alcohol taxes to treat alcoholism, while using cigarette taxes to punish and coerce.

Our #1 killer, it’s time we fought for clean air for all. It’s my hope that smokers will actually explore some of the following ETS/SHS links and join in demanding that no worker or child ever again be compelled to breathe the forty-three carcinogens and hundreds of toxic chemicals generated by burning tobacco products. Together we can!

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