While living in Illinois, New Jersey, and Massachusetts, dealing with second-hand smoke was the last thing on Regina Calcagno’s mind when dining out or having a few drinks at a night club.
When Calcagno moved to Lansing last summer, she was caught off guard when patrons fired up cigarettes whenever they pleased.
Calcagno now is placing her hope of a smoke-free Michigan in the hands of State Representative Joan Bauer and her comprehensive smoke-free workplaces bill that would add Michigan to a growing list of states that seek to limit the impact of second hand smoke.
With Michigan’s lung cancer diagnostic and death rates outpacing the national average year after year, a smoke-free bill could strengthen the state in its fight with respiratory disease.
“Michigan is way behind the times on this,” said Calcagno, policy consultant with Tobacco Free Michigan, a Lansing-based non-profit advocacy group. “Honestly, I was shocked when I moved to Michigan and found out there was no smoke free places law. I would love for that to happen.”
Between 1985 and 2005, lung cancer reports in Michigan steadily grew until peaking at 7,952 cases in 2003, according to the Michigan Department of Community Health.
Numbers dipped to 7,641 in 2004 before rising slightly to 7,681 in 2005.
In 2005, Michigan’s lung cancer rates trumped the national average with 74.4 reports for every 100,000 people compared to 61 for the rest of the country.
Cigarette smoke contains nearly 6,000 deadly chemicals, including ammonia and arsenic, that demolish lung tissues, said Janet Kiley, program manager of the Tobacco Control Program at the Michigan Department of Community Health.
“There are so many toxins that are inhaled,” Kiley said. “It kills lung cells. There are particulates (fine particles) in the smoke that are inhaled into the lungs. Cigarettes filter out a lot of the bad stuff but there are still a lot of particulates that can be inhaled into the lungs.”
A smoke free-bill combined with the Michigan’s new tobacco tax could go a long way in encouraging long-time smokers to give up their habit while minimizing the influx of new smokers, Kiley said.
Kiley blames the tobacco industry for pushing advertisements that created an atmosphere where smoking is deemed cool and fashionable.
“I blame an environment that’s been created to say it’s okay,” Kiley said. “It came from marketing philosophy. I feel badly for people who smoke, but I don’t blame them. Blaming the victim is totally unproductive.”
The recent tobacco tax increase in Michigan could have several positive outcomes, said Amy Ann Moore, health educator at the Ingham County Health Department.
“There are always three major benefits with a (tobacco) tax increase,” Moore said. “We know that less children will become addicted, and that less people will die. Tax revenue also will increase, so it’s a win-win-win situation.”
Many smokers find it difficult to give up their destructive habit because of their nicotine addictions, which develop only after a few cigarettes.
Once the brain senses increasing amounts of nicotine, it grows additional receptors to absorb the chemical, Kiley said.
Nicotine addiction is similar to caffeine dependency, only much stronger, she said.
“The nicotine addiction of the tobacco kills you,” Kiley said. “Addiction is a very tough thing to deal with. I want to say that 90 percent of the people want to quit, but they find it very difficult because of the physiological addiction.”
Smoke-free legislation could be the only thing that convinces smokers to quit once and for all, Calcagno said.
While living in Chicago, Calcagno said the inconvenience of getting up during meals at restaurants to smoke forced her friends to reconsider their habits.
“I had some friends (in Chicago) who were initially annoyed when they had to go outside to smoke and some of them quit while other people sucked it up and took it outside,” Calcagno said. “Now it’s wonderful to go out.”
Meanwhile, Kiley won’t even step foot inside of a neighborhood bar because of the second smoke.
Kiley doesn’t believe a smoking ban would negatively impact businesses at all because non-smokers outnumber smokers.
“Everybody eats, but only 21 percent of adults smoke,” Kiley said.
Smoking is still considered a norm in society, so Kiley thinks a smoking ban in public places would completely alter the culture.
“It will change a lot of lives and change the norm,” Kiley said. “It will also be an economic positive in Michigan. No studies have shown that there will be a negative impact, but those in the tobacco industry want you to think otherwise.”