Smoking is a public health crisis, killing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 400,000 Americans a year. The CDC estimates that secondhand smoke kills an additional 3,000.
At one point my grandparents were part of the statistics; both died of emphysema, a long and painful disease that resulted from years of heavy smoking.
No wonder Philadelphia’s smoking ban was one of the The Inquirer’s “top stories of 2006.”
Thanks to a broad social movement of concerned citizens fed up with having to live with – and eager not to die from – secondhand smoke, I can now enjoy eating in restaurants and cafes without having to worry about carcinogenic smoke polluting my lungs or ruining my dining experience.
I don’t have to worry about my kids inhaling such smoke in restaurants, stadiums, trains and other public spaces.
Yet cigarettes continue to invade and degrade our public spaces.
I am continually disgusted by how many littered cigarette butts I have to step across when entering malls, movie theaters, and other public venues.
I have developed the habit of saying to people who drop their cigarette butts: “Pardon me, but I think you dropped something.”
Perhaps next time they’ll deposit the butt in a receptacle for that purpose – or punch me in the nose.
I have also developed the habit of flashing my high beams at drivers who throw lit cigarette butts out the window.
Driving the Blue Route and local roads I routinely see drivers do this.
On several occasions I have watched the smoldering butts bounce off my car. (I feel safer after my car dealer identified and repaired a slow leak in my gas tank.)
Recently, I came to a stop near a pile of cigarette butts. Someone had simply emptied a full ashtray in the middle of a road in Wallingford.
As a parent of young kids I also am increasingly aware of cigarette advertising in community spaces.
I recently entered the Wallingford Wawa with my kids and noticed cigarette ads plastered on the front door. Rather than being relegated to appropriate spaces in the store, the ads were emblazoned across its public-access space, literally in the faces of impressionable young customers.
I don’t mean to single out Wawa. It isn’t the only store that sells and advertises cigarettes. But the Wallingford Wawa is one of the few local places where kids can get snacks, sodas, and other such young-adult necessaries.
When I called Wawa’s community-relations department for comment, I was told that advertising on prominent spaces such as front doors earned the company discounts from cigarette manufacturers, and that Wawa followed all local laws in selling tobacco.
While I am aware that smoking and Snus Nicotine is still legal, I do think that citizens have to continue to address the ways that cigarette advertising and use affect nonsmokers.
I especially encourage parents to work to minimize the presence of cigarettes in our public spaces, and to not allow advertising and use of cigarettes to be normalized.
In any case, I have an idea for New Year’s resolutions for cigarette smokers.
For those who aren’t quite ready to kick the habit, how about not flicking your still-lit butts anywhere you please? Instead of treating the world as your ashtray, how about using your own ashtray for a change? (And try to quit a second time if it doesn’t work the first. It will be one of the most difficult yet most rewarding challenges of your life.)