In addition to many of the other concerns the late California fires have posed to the public, the health effects of the resulting smoke are among the most prominent. However, while the health of the average person has been substantially depreciated by the smoke, the effect on unhealthy people and those predisposed to respiratory illness is even worse. For these people this is nothing new, thanks to an ever decreasing air quality and some of its proponents: smokers.
I am a person of poor respiratory health. Due to a combination of genetics, childhood infections and second-hand smoking, my lungs are permanently damaged and will never be as strong as the average person’s. Other people smoking is one of the key reasons for my poor health and is an issue I feel goes undiscussed.
While waiting for the bus last week, I found myself engaged in polite small talk by a Stanford alum who, upon seeing my Stanford sweater, wanted to know all about how the University was doing. He seemed genuinely nice, his conversation more than interesting, but I nonetheless could not enjoy talking with him. Why? Because he was smoking, and though he stopped to speak to me, the fumes remained. I could not breathe in his presence. Despite standing over two yards from him, after he hurriedly ran off for his bus, I was in the midst of an asthma attack. For the remainder of my wait, I was forced to move three more times to avoid smokers unknowingly (and perhaps uncaringly) harming my health. They were everywhere and not terribly knowledgeable of their surroundings.
Smokers at the bus station are hardly the only problem. Stanford has its own fair share of smokers of every type imaginable — cigarettes, blunts and vape pens included. Even in the tight-knit crowds of football games and other events, smokers will openly puff and become irritated when asked to stop. In order to enjoy the fun, I have to isolate myself. Yet smoking hurts more than my ability to have fun. I can hardly walk to class or work without having to alter my route to avoid them. When I’m not successful, I have an asthma attack that makes me late. It presents more than an inconvenience, however. Now more than ever I have to wear a mask, and I will likely have to wear one even after the smog leaves the Bay Area.
I introduce my own struggles to reflect upon the personal experiences of those like me, not to complain about my lot in life. I have known smokers and the consequences of their habit for my entire life, having lived with a few of them. What smokers do not seem to understand is that their public smoking is not their own. While they possess the choice over how smoking will affect their own personal health, those around them subjected to that smoking do not. Specifically, those with weaker respiratory health. Not only are they subjected to the smoking, they are hurt far worse by it than their smoking counterparts. Though not all types of smoking are addictive, they are all damaging to anyone’s lungs because no one is meant to breathe in particulates. Thus public smoking is not practical or safe for anyone involved in the practice. Though I believe that every individual should be able to choose what they do with their own body, smoking is damaging to more than oneself. I am not the only one affected by public smoking or even the worst affected by it. For me and others, public smoking should be stopped or limited more so than it already is. The issue returns to that of autonomy: No one should decide someone else’s fate (or health) for them. And for those reasons, I am opposed to the resurgence of public smoking.
Contact Ari Pefley at apefley ‘at’ stanford.edu.