Beyond the Numbers: People’s Health Suffering from Secondhand Smoke

medicalToday is the Great American Smokeout, a day when the American Cancer Society encourages smokers to develop a plan to quit. The health impacts of smoking affect more than smokers, and a new law could protect workers from secondhand smoke.

The Kentucky legislature has been debating passage of a smoke-free indoor workplace bill for several years now. It is easy for such debates to become about ideology, but the kickoff last week for the effort to secure clean air in indoor workplaces brought the issue back to the people impacted without a law in place.

A Bourbon County high school student shared how young people in his community experience negative health impacts when they take a job. As he described it, he and his friends are now getting older and going out and finding work. Without the ability to be choosy in this economy, many are taking jobs in smoky workplaces. Unfortunately, research tells us that working a 6-8 hour shift in a smoky workplace is the health equivalent of smoking a pack of cigarettes a day. Without an indoor workplace smoke-free law, he and his peers are having to choose between working and doing what’s best for their health.

A former state trooper shared his story about what happens after years of exposure to secondhand smoke in the workplace. Ed Shemalya was diagnosed with throat cancer from secondhand smoke exposure on the job. When his doctor discovered it, he immediately asked how long Mr. Shemalya smoked. Yet he had never smoked – he had just gone to work protecting the citizens of Kentucky.

We also know there are thousands more lives impacted by secondhand smoke, based on what research tells us of how children are affected. Women of childbearing age who have significant exposure to secondhand smoke – even those who have never smoked – face increased risk of experiencing a miscarriage, stillbirth, or tubal pregnancy.

We know the impact of secondhand smoke and the cost – in terms of birth outcomes, cancer battles, and direct medical costs. It’s time for an indoor workplace law that allows people to breathe smoke-free air.

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