In the next couple of months, the Augusta Commission will hear arguments about the merits of instituting a smoke-free workplace ordinance in Augusta.
While some people consider this issue a smoking rights issue, it is not. It is a public health issue. Secondhand smoke is a known cancer-causing agent and a risk factor for heart attacks, stroke, cancer, asthma and other respiratory diseases. Smokers are free to smoke in nonrestricted public places, their homes, their cars, in airport smoking lounges and the great outdoors, but people who work in smoking environments have no choice, unless they quit their jobs and find new occupations.
Bar owners may worry that smoking bans will decrease business; however, smoke-free bars have a much larger potential customer base. Smokers constitute about 19 percent of the adult population, while nonsmokers represent 81 percent of the population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Why would a business owner choose to alienate a majority of his or her potential patrons?
As a pediatrician, it is my duty to educate my patients and their families about the hazards of smoking; to prevent them from taking up a highly addictive, expensive and unhealthy habit; and to encourage parents and caregivers to quit for their own health, as well as the health of their family members. As a physician and as a survivor of bone marrow cancer, it is my desire to prevent illness and unnecessary pain and suffering.
While smokers may decide to risk their future health for an addictive habit, it is wrong for workers to be exposed to hazardous workplace conditions. I strongly urge the community to support smoke-free workplaces, and for the Augusta Commission to vote in favor of this ordinance.
Alice Little Caldwell, M.D.
(The writer is a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.)