Sonoma County; pay attnetion to this.

Report on the Cigarette Epidemic
Completed by
Jo Spencer, Executive Director
The Hannah Institute for the Study and Prevention of Childhood Trauma
Contact [email protected]

On September 10th 2007 my mother was diagnosed with lung cancer that had spread to her liver. Nine days later she died at Good Samaritan Hospital in Lexington, KY. My sisters and I were with her night and day for the last five days of her life. The last three hours of her life she was unconscious and had the “death rattle” coming from her throat. I put my ear down to her chest and it sounded like an underground cavern gurgling with fluid. My mother was a cigarette smoker, as were many of the people around her.
Eastern Kentucky is in a cigarette epidemic. It effects every aspect of people’s lives there. Adults spend money on cigarettes that they should be spending on more nutritious food. The toxins from smoke are a constant part of the environment. Children are not allowed outside in winter because “they might catch cold”, instead they are trapped inside with cigarette smokers. Newborn babies right now this moment are trapped inside cars, houses, and trailers, with smoke. Fetuses in the womb are taking the poisons in through their bloodstream as pregnant women and those around them continue to smoke.The overall health status is worse in Kentucky than anywhere in America. And the heads of tobacco companies drive around in fancy cars reaping the profits of this epidemic.
My field is psychology. The psychological impact of children growing up with cigarette smokers is something that isn’t even being looked at. The problem with alcohol and drug addiction in Appalachia is also epidemic. Cigarettes are only the method of delivery for taking in chemical compounds. How can children growing up in this possibly begin to sort out the reality of what addiction is? There is a huge elephant in the living room and the grown-ups tell the children it isn’t there.
I will give some examples of cigarette insanity. My cousin’s daughter in Ohio gave birth prematurely; probably because she was smoker. Her baby weighed five pounds and was incubated for two weeks. My sister and I went to visit her when she brought the baby home. She had already told us the doctor said she absolutely could not smoke around the baby. When we got there, she was smoking. This young woman later committed suicide.
Seven years ago my brother-in-law went to the hospital because of a mild smoke. The doctor explained to him and my sister that one of the arteries going to his brain was completely blocked, the other was 60% blocked, and if he continued to smoke it was suicidal. As the doctor was completing the paperwork to release him he and my sister went outside to have a cigarette. He then had a major stroke and went to a rehab center. He has partial paralysis and some brain damage. They still smoke.
Last summer I had a man come out to my house to do some plumbing. He got out of his truck with a cigarette and I politely told him he couldn’t smoke, even in my yard. He put it out. Later I told him I have a respiratory condition. He replied, “Oh, my wife does too…she’s on oxygen.” I said I hoped he didn’t smoke around her. He sheepishly said, “She smokes too.” A few days later his wife and children came to my house with him. She was in her thirties but looks seventy, weighed about 80 pounds, and carried an oxygen tank around with her with tubes going into her nose. She had been diagnosed with emphysema and bronchial asthma. I gently put my hand on her shoulder and told her she couldn’t smoke while she was there. Her ten year old son said, with tears in his eyes, “I hate smoke too.”
Both of my aunts were allergic to cigarette smoke. Yet, each of their husbands refused to quit. My aunt Rosaleen’s eyes were always red and watery from the smoke. When she died they donated her eyes to research, which was absurd…she was allergic to the smoke! When I was ten I started having such severe headaches that I was taken for several months once a week to get a shot of something for my “sinus infections”. It was my mother’s smoke. Both my mother and aunt had rheumatoid arthritis. There is a direct correlation between arthritic conditions and nutrition. In particular, foods from the nightshade family make arthritis worse. Tobacco is a nightshade.
These pathetic stories are not the exception in Kentucky; they are what’s normal. About ten years ago I began speaking out about cigarettes. One day I was driving through town and saw a banner in front of the health department which read “Report Child Abuse”. I went in and asked to speak with the director. I explained to her my concern about children being exposed to smoke and asked why this isn’t considered abuse. She told me there was nothing the health department could do. I then went to the social service department and had the same interaction. They looked at me as though I am insane.
In my own family I have been treated like I’m the crazy one for standing up to the smoke. I have been generally disregarded, ganged up against, and at times made fun of. One of the primary factors that has allowed this epidemic to take over eastern Kentucky is that mountain people try very hard to not be rude to one another and to not make a scene. Therefore, if you bring up smoking you are considered rude. The person lighting up and filling the air with poisons is not considered rude.
The most helpless being on earth is an unborn baby lying in the womb. Every moment of that baby’s existence is so fragile that we can never really understand it. Because we now have ultrasound technology we can watch that fetus. When that mother takes a puff of a cigarette that unborn baby immediately shows a physiological stress response. A smoking mother robs her baby of oxygen and vital nutrients.
If smokers feel there is no physiological effects from smoking then why would they spend money on it? Of course there is a physiological effect. The overall effect can’t be both healthy ad non-healthy; it’s one or the other. Therefore, smokers are knowingly exposing children to toxins, and that is child abuse.
There is only one way to reverse this epidemic. Smokers have proven that they are not capable of voluntarily quitting or curbing their smoking behavior. A few years ago smokers would still try and argue with me that smoking didn’t cause cancer and that there was nothing wrong with it. They aren’t doing that much anymore. They know they are addicted and that smoking in Kentucky is out of control. When it becomes more acceptable for someone to blow poisons into the air than it is for the person who objects to say something, there is a problem.
What works is to set limits, to have laws, to simply say we are not going to allow you to compromise the health of everyone around you. What works is for every time a smoker lights up for someone to speak up. We need an aggressive public awareness campaign with television ads and billboards and documentaries. We need to stimulate open dialogue so that non-smokers begin to have a forum to speak up. We need to make the issue conscious.
I am holding accountable those of you who are employed by public interest programs, such as public health and social services. You are being paid to do something about this, I however have no funding. You need to stand up for the rights of babies and children.
Jo Spencer