My parents were heavy smokers. They didn’t go outside to smoke, or roll the window down in the car when they were smoking or make an effort to smoke away from children. Smoking was a part of their life—therefore, it was a part of mine.
And because of the health issues associated with secondhand smoke, it’s still a part of my life. For me, even though I've never smoked myself, my parents’ legacy was lifelong respiratory issues, including asthma.
Yes, I know, not everyone who smokes or grows up around smoker ends up with these issues. But I did, and I know it’s related to the environmental factors I endured. As a kid, I was constantly battling some respiratory infection and having trouble breathing because of undiagnosed asthma. As an adult, I get respiratory infections, bronchitis and pneumonia, at an increasingly scary rate. I’m sure some of it is genetic, but by now we know the dangers of secondhand smoke and I think it’s safe to say my childhood is a cautionary tale.
It’s a different culture now than when I was growing up. There are laws against smoking in public buildings and on public transportation, but that doesn’t change the fact that smokers will still smoke wherever else they can, including in their own homes and cars.
But should they be allowed to?
I believe in personal rights up until the point where they affect my right—or my children’s right—to breathe clean air. Which is why I am so adamant that my children not be around smokers. I may not be a perfect parent, but I know firsthand the dangers of secondhand smoke and refuse to indulge smokers while putting my children at risk.
I would no more let my children stay at a house with smokers than I’d let them stay in a house with handguns.
Looking at it through a child’s eyes only reinforces the ridiculousness of this awful, unhealthy habit. I’ve explained to my kids that smoking causes illnesses of the lungs. I’ve explained that people who smoke in public are putting everyone around them at risk, much like someone who knows they are sick going to work or school.
This comparison makes no sense to them, as they know about germs and how they spread. “Why would they want to make other people sick?” they ask, and I don’t have a good answer except to tell them some people don’t think about what they’re doing to others.
I would no more let my children stay at a house with smokers than I’d let them stay in a house with handguns. Keeping them safe and healthy is my main goal, even if it means some hurt feelings along the way.
I’ve heard smokers defend their habit. “But I only smoke outside,” they say. Or, “I only smoke in designated areas when I’m in public.” And I understand the good intention, but I also know that good intentions fly out the window when it’s pouring down rain or there is a foot of snow on the ground or the temperature is hovering near 100 degrees.
Standing just outside the door under the eaves of the house or the entryway to a building is not much better than smoking in the house or building. Open windows in a house or car don’t prevent the smoke from leaching into fabric and upholstery. And, no matter how far outside you may go to smoke, it doesn’t prevent your clothes and hair from smelling like smoke.
Is this residual smoke enough to cause respiratory illness? Probably not. But it can trigger an asthma attack for me. And while I have bit my tongue for years and suffered in silence when I was around smokers who didn’t seem to notice my distress, I refuse to normalize a bad habit and have my children take that as approval while I’m literally gasping for air.
I don’t care what other people do in their own house, but I reserve the right to keep my kids out of their house if I think what they’re doing is unsafe or unhealthy. I’ve heard smokers complain about being discriminated against and I guess I’m OK with discriminating against them when it comes to the health of my children.