From the time I was seven years old, I remember going to medical appointments for chronic bronchitis. For over three years I had an uncontrollable cough. I was prescribed horrible tasting cough syrup and had to take pills every day to manage the ongoing infections in my lungs. I was terrified that I would stop breathing in my sleep, so I never wanted to go to bed. When I would finally pass out from exhaustion, I would wake up coughing. During those moments when I felt like I couldn’t breathe, all I wanted was my mom. I couldn’t control what was happening in my body.
That all changed one day, when the doctor had an honest conversation with my mom about her tobacco use.
“You are hurting your daughter. Your decision to smoke is making her sick. Right now, you are making that choice for her.”
I don’t remember him using the words second or third hand smoke, but he explained how when she inhaled a lit cigarette, she wasn’t the only one smoking it. I was breathing in the smoke she exhaled. Our home smelled like smoke, even when a cigarette wasn’t burning. Those toxic chemicals were stunting my growth and lung development. I was experiencing the same health problems as chronic smokers.
I didn’t realize at the time the full impact of what was happening. The color drained from my mom’s face. She told me years later of the intense guilt she felt for hurting me. She hadn’t realized until that moment that her smoking habit had become “our” smoking habit.
That was the last day my mom ever smoked a cigarette. I can’t imagine that it was easy for her. But soon my lungs cleared up and the coughing faded away.
I never forgot the memory of that day and the difficulty that my mom faced. Or the strength that she demonstrated by choosing me over her nicotine addiction.
Today is the 8th anniversary of Wisconsin’s indoor smoking ban. A law designed to protect kids like me, from inhaling tobacco smoke from someone else’s cigarette.