Healthy Living in the North

Facing the silent attack of second-hand smoke

Avoiding the trap of second-hand smoke. (Illustration by Andrew Burton)

I recently visited Ireland and Scotland, and I can tell you that every street bench and every corner and every doorway on Argyll Street in Glasgow or Grafton Street in Dublin felt like a Venus fly trap to me, luring me near and attempting to entrap the ex-smoker in me. On the streets, I could hold my breath for 10 seconds max, just long enough to walk from one doorway to another, cough again, inhale, hold my breath and repeat the procedure. I would walk to the nearest bench, breathing relief, and then after a second, there it would be again – a mobile Venus fly trap as someone would sit beside me and light up their cigarette.

The Northern Health guidelines (position paper) on tobacco reduction state that there is no safe level of exposure to second hand smoke. This, for me, is rather personal. My greatest fear is breathing in tobacco smoke. Not just for health reasons, but for that aromatic erotic hit on the senses that says “more!” Yes, dangerous, I know

I am filled with remorse; as a health care professional, shouldn’t I be standing up on a soap box and shouting, “Cigarettes, your end is near, careful you don’t burn your fingers!’? The truth is, there are hundreds of smokers on these streets and their smoke is a real health threat to me. Then I remember the feeling of desperation and anxiety that I used to experience in the absence of a cigarette. I understand this for what it is. It’s the addiction, it’s chronic and it’s relapsing; I fear it – one puff and there is no going back.

This is my job and these people, standing on the streets smoking, are my target audience. I could roll up into the foetal position or stand on the soap box, but neither of these solutions is valuable today. My real job is winning souls, one at a time if necessary, and in helping others to understand the desperate plight of the addict. I can make a difference by quiet perseverance. We now know that the soap box approach doesn’t work. Addicts don’t respond to fear tactics. We are very immune to it, but in the quiet of our hearts, a man walking past us wearing his oxygen, fills us with a feeling which we understand only too well. In addition to this and with the greatest respect to all those who suffer the terrible addiction to tobacco, perhaps it’s time to take it off the streets as well.

For more information on tobacco reduction, both for smokers and those wanting to avoid second-hand smoke, visit the NH tobacco reduction website.

How do you avoid second-hand smoke?

[Editor's note: Don't forget to enter the Healthy Living Week 4 Challenge and tell us about how you source local food for your chance to win a great mini freezer!]

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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