When I was 17 years old and a freshman in college, I smoked my first cigarette with my new roommate. It was a Salem Light – a menthol cigarette which my roommate explained was easier to smoke than a Marlboro because the menthol helped to numb the burning sensation in my lungs. I have to say that my first cigarette was not particularly enjoyable, yet I tried another and another until I was a regular smoker by the time I graduated four years later. I told myself after each cigarette I smoked that I would quit tobacco when I got out of college and went into the workforce. Easy, right? Well, not really…
I wasn’t able to quit smoking permanently until August 4, 1998 at age 39. I stood next to my 1990 Dodge Caravan in the parking lot of the church where I had just given the eulogy at my father’s funeral. I took the last puff, extinguished the cigarette (it was a Marlboro at this point), and told myself that I was never going to put a cigarette in my mouth again. And I haven’t. That first cigarette that I smoked when I was 17 turned into an off-and-on habit for over 20 years. What a waste.
Now, 17 years later, as research continues to mount about the dangers of tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, we have an opportunity to send a positive message to all Alaska workers by requiring that smoking and vaping be prohibited in all indoor workplaces throughout the state. Not only do workers have the right to a safe and healthy workplace, we have a responsibility to future generations to establish frameworks which encourage healthy choices.
Research suggests that one of the most effective methods of reducing tobacco use among current users, encouraging tobacco users to quit, and discouraging youth from ever starting to use tobacco is to create policies restricting tobacco use in indoor workplaces. This does not mean banning tobacco use, but simply requiring that the product be used outside and thereby eliminating the exposure of non-users.
Quitting tobacco was one of the best decisions I have ever made for myself and my family and I encourage anyone thinking of quitting to give it a try today. It took me three attempts to finally achieve success, so it is never too late.