Monthly Archives: March 2013

The ‘Bad’ Example Who Became Our Shining Star

Guest Blogger – Serena Chen, American Lung Association in California

Debi Austin was a force to be reckoned with. When her anti-tobacco industry commercial hit the air waves in 1996, we saw a woman who was getting back at the industry that had hooked her into smoking at age 13 – by defiantly smoking a cigarette through the hole in her throat. A hole, a stoma, created when doctors removed her cancerous vocal cord, that was brought to her courtesy of RJ Reynolds and Camel cigarettes. She takes a puff, and then growls, “And they say smoking is not addictive.”

During one of her numerous presentations to high school kids, she remarked, “I am the worst-case scenario that your mother told you about,” she said. “I am the walking dead, the castoff of the tobacco industry that they can’t fix, they can’t heal.”

Debi Austin was scary, and we, tobacco control advocates, loved her. She reached the kids who wouldn’t listen to us, she touched the most hardcore addicted smokers, and she told the kind of truth that only a survivor can tell.

In 2000, the Alameda County Tobacco Control Coalition invited her to speak at one of our coalition meetings and it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship, maybe even love affair. The Bay Area school districts all clamored to have her speak to their students and Debi simply loved “hanging out,” with the advocates afterwards over dinner where she would tell what we fondly call “Debi stories.” Stories of her childhood and wayward youth. She would drive up to Oakland for our regular quarterly meetings even if she wasn’t speaking. Read More »

E-cigarettes: The next big thing?

Last weekend, I walked into a bar and saw people smoking inside. My first reaction: “Why aren’t the bouncers stopping them?” My second reaction: “Why are those cigarettes in cool colors?” I then walked up to these smokers and realized they were smoking E-cigarettes. I have seen them before because my dad tried them to quit a few years ago (he said they didn’t help). But back then, they just looked like long plastic pens. The E-cigarettes these people were smoking came in different colors and they were proud to show them to me.

After they showed me their different E-cigarettes that came in pink, white, black and blue, I blatantly told them that those will not help them stop smoking and there haven’t been enough studies to know if what they are inhaling and exhaling will cause harm. Their responses were along the lines of “At least I’m not smoking a real cigarette.” Although this is a common excuse used by those that smoke e-cigarettes, they are still smoking where and when they would normally be prohibited from doing so. The “freedom” to smoke where you want and the belief that this will help them quit are what grabs consumers, however, a quick Google search shows me that E-cigarette brands acknowledge in small print that they are not a cessation product and are marketing themselves as a new and stylish way to smoke. Read More »

Secondhand smoke is a women’s issue

Guest Blogger – Jaime Jenett, MPH, Policy Coordinator, Contra Costa Tobacco Prevention Project

Worldwide, 40% of women are exposed to secondhand smoke regularly. Secondhand smoke doesn’t only make us sick, it’s killing us. Women make up 47% of the 600,000 annual secondhand smoke deaths throughout the world, compared to 26% men.

I always found secondhand smoke irritating but I never knew how dangerous it is until I started working in tobacco control. I didn’t know this toxic substance can actually trigger cardiac events in people with heart disease or that even low levels are harmful.

The majority of the secondhand smoke complaint calls I take as part of my job are from women. They usually call because secondhand smoke is drifting from a neighboring apartment or condominium. Many of the women and their children have health issues that are being made worse by the smoke. They are literally trapped in their homes with toxic fumes. They call me because they don’t know what to do.

The World Health Organization and the U.S. Surgeon General have determined that the most effective way to protect people from secondhand smoke is through secondhand smoke protections policies. Despite this, only 7.4% of the world lives in jurisdictions with comprehensive smoke-free laws. In California, the state law protects people in a few places including most indoor workplaces. In the last ten years, an increasing number of local communities are adding even more protections. Read More »