Yesterday it was confirmed that Starbucks will be extending its No Smoking Policy to within 25 feet of its locations, including locations where there is outdoor seating. As expected, news and social media has been in a tizzy about it. Talks, tweets, and comments have been laced with accusations of Nazi enforcement and fascism. Wow, heavy! Tobacco-Free California must be rejoicing, though.
I was raised in a home where my mother spent many years trying to convince my father to stop smoking. They were married in 1957. By 1967, she had just about had it. She had banned smoking in the food business she had opened with her sister, both at the storefront and in the processing areas. She was determined to ban it completely in our home. My father never smoked in any of the bedrooms. He smoked mostly in the patio. It wasn’t until she enjoined us kids so we could all plead the case for quitting that he acquiesced. And so, for the next 3 years, he tried. Then failed. Then tried again. By 1970, he had completely rid himself of the vice. (Yes, my mother is way ahead of her time, in more ways than this.)
When I was a pediatric resident in Toronto, I had admitted a seven-year old girl in our emergency room late at night. She was brought in by ambulance. She was clearly in severe respiratory distress. She was admitted to the intensive care after we stabilized her. Here was a pretty young girl of Caribbean origin, a clear asthmatic, who was having a severe attack. I later found out her mother was a chain-smoker. The ICU staff called the child protection services (they were called Children’s Aid Society or CAS) to get involved.
Almost a year went by and it was my turn to do my intensive care rotation. On my first night on-call, I had the unfortunate experience of admitting this little girl again! This time she came in intubated. This was her second ICU admission in less than a year. We all knew this did not bode well for her asthma. CAS was involved the entire time. They managed to get a court order to move the child out of her mother’s care until her mother could make the decision to stop smoking in their apartment, clean the place up, and pay attention to the needs of this child sensibly. This is because after her last hospital stay, she was sent to a rehabilitation center for a month where she had not a single episode of wheezing. It was a smoke-free environment obviously.
Last week, I listened to KQED’s Forum with Michael Krasny, discuss the latest California State Senate bill that would regulate electronic cigarettes just like all the other regular tobacco products. Proponents argue that these don’t contain tobacco but only nicotine that is vaporized in the device. Therefore, there is no second-hand smoke. However, there is second-hand vapor! People have complained of eye, nose and throat irritation from the vapors.
Another argument in favor is that it is a “safer alternative” to real tobacco. Really? Does reducing the nicotine to a lower level make it more acceptable and erase the health risk to susceptible individuals and the general public from the exposure, whether they want it or not? I believe that until we are shown just where the exact thresholds are for safety from the toxic, mutagenic, and carcinogenic effects of such substances, we cannot really afford to say when a little is not already too much. What about the nicotine that gets to a smoker’s hair, skin, clothes, or the walls, carpet, curtains, and other fixtures in such public places like restaurants and theaters? We all know what it’s like to enter a hotel room that has been previously occupied by a smoker. All the substances left behind long after the smoker has left, will continue to emit the toxic chemicals absorbed from the smoke. Or even the vapor. Why do the rest of us have to inhale it?
In the discussion, there was also talk of the tobacco companies jumping into the game of the e-cigarettes, as they are called. I’m sure there will be fierce lobbying in favor of blocking any bans and restrictions in a lot of places again. However, places like France, Canada, Australia, Mexico, and Israel, have banned e-cigarettes in non-smoking areas. Is the United States going to stick its head in the mud over this?
A good friend of mine told me she visited her sister and her ailing mother in Texas last week. One morning, they were at a Starbucks near where her mother lived. She and her mother were enjoying their coffee outside when a man came out with his coffee, sat next to their table, and proceeded to light up. This, in spite of the very obvious oxygen tank that sat right next to my friend’s mother and the oxygen tube up her nose. Needless to say, they had to up and leave. And so, yesterday, when news about Starbucks’ commitment to a smoke-free environment was announced, my friend was relieved.
There are a few things that elicit a visceral reaction from me. The entire issue, argument, folly of smoking is one of them. I get totally incensed at the rantings of many hardline smoke-addled brains who can’t see beyond their fix, their rituals, their myopic self-absorbed preoccupation. In the meantime, everyone else around them has to endure the second-hand smoke (or vapor!), the long-term cumulative toll on various organs, most notably the lungs and the heart. Tobacco company sponsored false studies have tried to convince the public otherwise with too many lies. Guys, it culminates in the slow dance of suffocation. How can you not see this?
Will there be push-back for Starbucks? I’m sure there will be. But,
THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU, STARBUCKS!
You stood up for equality when you challenged your shareholders about your acceptance of LGBT in your organization. Now, you have upped the ante again over a very important issue!