Everyone knows someone affected by tobacco. You likely know someone who smokes, but as long as they don’t smoke around you, you might not think about it much. And even if they do smoke around you, you likely assume it’s not as bad for you as it is for them.
That should not be the excuse, though. There is no safe amount of secondhand smoke for you, for me, or for anyone. Imagine what that means for the person actually smoking every day. With every cigarette, they are directly decreasing the number of years they will live. They are directly decreasing the number of years you will have them in your life. Every cigarette is changing both of your lives, for the worse.
This is true of all tobacco products (cigars, cigarettes, chew, hookah). But, this is also something that I never really thought about before January 2013. I knew that smoking was bad and had no interest in doing so myself. I knew that my grandpa’s house was a giant box of cigar smoke and that anything I wore there would need to be washed after I left. I knew to leave my jacket in the car when visiting. And I knew that when we did his spring cleaning, his walls would drip yellow water from the smoke.
But I never knew the real impact of tobacco products on an individual, a community, or the world.
In January, I accepted a job at ASH without any experience in anti-tobacco work. I was looking for something new but had no idea about the scope of work I was about to get into.
With tobacco marketing in the U.S. decreasing and smoke-free locations increasing, I assumed it would be relatively easy to take down a dying tobacco industry. I was way off; the tobacco industry’s profits have actually been increasing due to its entry into “emerging markets”, i.e., developing countries. Many of the old, laughable marketing tactics used in the 1950s – 90s in the US to falsely promote a trendy, glamorous, or masculine tobacco user are actually up and running in Africa, Asia, and Latin America today!
I was even more stunned to learn the prevalence of this silent killer: 1 person dies every 6 seconds from a tobacco-related disease. Every. Six. Seconds. In 2013. That’s a lot of friends, parents, and colleagues.
What really got me hooked on this work is the even crazier part: all those people dying every 6 seconds can be saved. Right now. Tobacco-related illnesses and deaths are fully preventable if usage ends.
Losing my own mother to an unpreventable breast cancer, when I was 22 years old, opened up my world to a whole new level of hurt. But it also opened up my world to a new level of motivation and a new need to help prevent other people from experiencing that level of hurt. Tobacco use is an addiction, but it is also a choice made by the user and the producing industry.
Amidst these ongoing, fully preventable deaths, the tobacco industry continues to operate as though it is not churning out deaths by the second. That has to change.
I fight to break the addictive cycle that the tobacco industry pays to facilitate. I fight for those who are addicted and need organizations like the CDC to help them take back their lives. I fight to educate everyone on the harms of all tobacco use in any amount. I fight for those in the tobacco industry’s “emerging markets,” so that they may remain safe from exposure. And, I fight to stop the unnecessary hurt of family members left to watch their loved ones suffer and pass away.