‘No’ to Second-Hand Smoke Protect our children from the double blow of tobacco and asthma

By: Aida L. Maisonet Giachello, Ph.D.
Faculty of Feinberg Medicine
Northwestern University, Chicago

Lawndale News Chicago's Bilingual Newspaper - HealthWe do not know the exact causes of asthma, nor have we found a silver bullet with which to cure it. However, we do know that asthma affects Latinos more than other ethnic groups. According to a 2010 study, 6.7 percent of the Latino population, or 3.6 million Latinos, not including the population of Puerto Rico, suffer from asthma. Their symptoms generally include swelling and spasms that block the flow of air in the windpipe.

Among Latinos living in the fifty U.S. states, Puerto Ricans are the most likely to develop asthma. Eighteen percent of Puerto Ricans are current asthma sufferers, compared with six percent of Mexican-Americans. The asthma rate among Puerto Ricans is 113 percent higher than that of non-Hispanic whites and 50 percent higher than that of African-Americans.

Moreover, Puerto Ricans have the highest asthma mortality rate of all Latino and non-Latino groups in the U.S. A wide range of respiratory irritants can trigger or intensify asthma symptoms, including damp rooms, disease-carrying insects, trash, fumes from factories and cleaning products, and tobacco smoke. Health experts consider tobacco to be a hazardous product. Second-hand smoke contains more than 7,000 toxins and an estimated 7,500 to 15,000 children are hospitalized annually due to exposure to second-hand smoke. In this country, approximately 49,400 people die every year from second-hand smoke.

There is no safe level of exposure to second-hand smoke. Moreover, we know that toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke can also adhere to our clothes, to furniture and to the walls of our homes, putting virtually all of us at risk of becoming passive victims at some point in our lives.

Jessica, a Puerto Rican resident of New York, has learned firsthand about the toll of second-hand smoke. Her seven year-old son, Aden, suffers from severe asthma and sometimes needs to breathe through a special inhaler to stay alive. Aden was exposed to tobacco smoke as an infant and despite his tender age, he has already had to make several hospital emergency room visits to control his asthma episodes.

Preventing cases similar to Aden’s is one of the fundamental motivations of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) new national tobacco education campaign, Tips from Former Smokers. Through the campaign, people such as Jessica and her son tell their personal stories about the consequences of smoking and second-hand smoke.

However, we cannot leave everything in the hands of the government and the law. We are responsible for our own health and that of our children. If you are a smoker and want to kick this deadly habit, call 1-800-QUIT-NOW. Encourage your friends and family members who smoke to do the same.

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