Fake Coughing, Real Problems

I often have to wave my hand in front of my face to clear the air, or start “fake coughing” when standing near someone smoking a cigarette. It isn’t often that they get the message and respectfully move away from the area, even though I think my actions are the most common way to let a person figure out that they are polluting their neighbor’s air. I think it’s partly because smokers don’t understand what it feels like to be gagging on a cloud of gray smoke, especially because they are used to breathing it in themselves. Or maybe they’re just ignorant of the fact that it could be irritating to others. Smokers should be considerate about the people and the environment around them because of the possible adverse health consequences and environmental pollution they cause.

Certain people may not think that secondhand smoke is dangerous or lethal, but according to the American Medical Association, secondhand smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, including more than 60 cancer-causing agents and 200 known poisons. In addition, over 85 percent of the smoke exhaled by smokers is inhaled by other people, and only 15 percent is actually inhaled by the smoker. Aside from the risks that the smoker already faces, other people are in danger of heart disease, strokes, respiratory problems, lung cancer and many other health effects. Regarding health, this is why smokers need to be respectful and think about individuals around them while smoking.

Location is also important when a person decides to pull out a cigarette and start smoking. Smoking in heavily populated areas, especially with children and the elderly, is very disrespectful to the health of others. Restaurants, beaches, shopping centers, schools and workplaces are all locations where smoking should not be allowed because of the type of people present in these areas. For example, according to the EPA, secondhand smoke can cause asthma, pneumonia and bronchitis in children, or even sudden infant death syndrome in young babies. Parents especially need to be cautious about smoking near their children because these health risks are much greater when the child is exposed to secondhand smoke on a daily basis. Therefore, it is crucial for smokers to take their location into consideration as well.

With smoking comes the disposal of cigarette butts. According to a study done at Westchester University, about 80 percent of smokers do not walk an extra foot or two to dispose of their cigarettes in an ashtray. So where do all of these cigarettes go? Cigarette butts can be seen all over school campuses, residential streets, beaches and other places where they shouldn’t be. It is a great danger for young children, who can pick them up and proceed to put them in their mouths. Not only is this littering, it can also be a great fire hazard. We’ve all seen those wildfires on TV that were started by that inconsiderate smoker who decided to throw his or her cigarette butt into the bushes. Wind and rain can also carry these into the water supply where the toxic chemicals in the cigarette leak out into the water, creating pollution and a dangerous environment for ocean life. In order to keep our environment safe and clean, smokers need to take action to dispose of their cigarette butts properly.

There are policies in place to prevent people from smoking in certain areas near buildings and in heavily populated areas. ABC News states that laws that ban smoking in airplanes, offices, parks and restaurants were designed to reduce the public’s exposure to secondhand smoke. Although these laws have worked in certain areas, there are still many locations where the law is not enough to prevent people from smoking. According to CNN, smoking bans in bars are widely ignored because bar owners simply don’t want to lose customers and business. The problem here is that the laws are not being enforced properly and strictly enough for there to be any kind of change. Therefore, we need stricter laws and better enforcement in order to decrease smokers in high-risk areas around vulnerable people.

I think that in order for smokers to consider their surroundings, they first need to understand the risks to their families, the public and the environment. Only then will they realize how it affects the person next to them at the park or the beach and decide to smoke in an isolated area and properly dispose their cigarette butts in ashtrays. If not, they should at least get the point when someone like me is trying to wave off the smoke from the air and giving that “fake cough.”

Reena Patel is a fourth-year public health sciences major. She can be reached at rbpatel@uci.edu.