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Public Health Column for the Times-News

Asking the right question about smoking

Published: Wednesday, January 1, 2014

By KIM HORTON
Health Department columnist

Should you be able to smoke in your own home? Before you answer, let me ask
another question. Should you be able to breathe clean air in your own home? Why of
course, you’re probably thinking. Who wouldn’t agree with that?

People who are nonsmokers and live in multi-unit housing that isn’t smoke-free
aren’t able to breathe clean air because of the dangers of secondhand smoke (SHS).
In apartment and condominium buildings, SHS travels to hallways and common
areas and then migrates into nonsmoker units.

It’s not selective about who breathes it in — infants, children, pregnant women and
the elderly are particularly vulnerable. When you consider that people in the United
States spend about 69 percent of their time in their homes, the impact of SHS is
alarming.

There is no safe level of exposure to SHS according to the surgeon general. The
combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed
out by smokers contains more than 7,000 chemicals, of which hundreds are toxic and
about 70 have been linked to cancer. Even 30 minutes of exposure can trigger a heart
attack in someone who has heart disease.

Other negative health effects include increased risks of heart disease, lung cancer and
a greater risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

For children, SHS increases the likelihood of developing bronchitis, pneumonia,
more frequent and severe asthma attacks, poorer lung function and middle ear
infections. It can also impact children’s cognitive abilities.

But exposure to SHS has been decreasing nationwide in part because of smoke-free
laws that ban smoking in workplaces and public places. These laws also decrease the
number of youth who start smoking, cut health care costs for smokers and
nonsmokers, and increase the number of smokers who quit.

North Carolina instituted a smoke-free law for restaurants and bars statewide in
January 2010, and the results have been impressive. The first year the law was
implemented, the state saw a 21 percent decline in average weekly emergency
department visits from heart attacks (an estimated $3.3 million to $4.8 million in
health care cost savings).

Simply put: smoke-free laws are saving lives.

But laws are not the only way to reduce SHS. Smoke-free policies for multi-unit
housing are catching on. Not only do these policies help save lives, but they are also
good for business because of reduced turnover costs (painting, odor removal, etc.),
reduced risk of fire damage, possibly lower insurance rates and a strong tenant
demand for smoke-free housing.

One local example is nine properties owned by Partnership Property Management
(PPM) of Greensboro. Going smoke-free today are Connor Creek, Fran’s Cottage,
Highland View, Hillside Commons, Jackson Parkview, King Creek Cottages, Oak
Haven, Sugar Hill and Sugarloaf. PPM recognizes that having a smoke-free policy is
good for business but also keeps residents healthy.

Perhaps their example will encourage others to follow. For property managers, multiunit
housing owners and tenants interested in smoke-free policies, visit
www.smokefreehousingnc.com and www.ncsmokefree.gov for resources.

To help residents quit smoking, PPM is sharing information and free resources. But
any county resident can participate in free smoking-cessation classes offered by Park
Ridge Health; call 866-774-5433 or 687-6288 if interested. Another source is
smoking-cessation classes that will be held at the Free Clinics. The seven-week
course will begin in February on Tuesday evenings. Call 697-8422 for more
information.

QuitlineNC (toll-free 800-784-8669) offers counseling services 24/7 to any N.C.
resident who needs help quitting tobacco use. Quit coaching is available by phone in
English and Spanish, with translation service available for other languages.

Should you and your family be able to breathe clean air in your own home? If the
answer is yes, then today is a day to celebrate the individuals and families who will
benefit from smoke-free policies. When places where individuals live are tobacco free,
they are more likely to quit for good. And what benefits their health benefits all.
Happy New Year!

Kim Horton is the information and communications specialist at the Henderson County Department of Public Health. She can be reached at khorton@hendersoncountync.org.

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Henderson County Department of Public Health
1200 Spartanburg Highway, Suite 100 • Hendersonville, NC 28792 • (828) 692-4223