Dear Grandparents: Please visit, but please don't smoke near baby

EARTH MATTERS AT HOME

August 07, 1991

Dear Dad, If you are still smoking cigarettes when you plan to come out for a visit next month, I'll have to ask you not to come.

No. That's too blunt.

Dear Dad, It breaks my heart to think of my wonderful father poisoning his body and the air around him by smoking those awful cigarettes.

Too melodramatic.

Dear Dad, Are you out of your mind? How can an educated man like you still be smoking cigarettes? Don't you know it's killing Mother?!

Too offensive.

Dear Dad, I was dismayed to hear from Mom that you are still smoking. I was under the impression that the program you tried last fall had worked for you. You are perfectly aware, I know, that smoking causes 300,000 premature deaths a year in this country. But did you know that your smoking is dangerous to the nonsmokers around you? According to a recent Environmental Protection Agency report, 53,000 deaths a year are caused by secondhand smoke. Another 37,000 deaths are caused by heart disease related to secondhand smoke.

Here's the really awful part: Mother's risk of lung cancer is 30 percent higher than that of other nonsmoking women because she lives with a man who smokes.

You see, the smoke that slips off your lit cigarette and the smoke you exhale are a complex mixture of more than 4,700 compounds, including gases and particulates. The Environmental Protection Agency calls this secondhand smoke the most pervasive cancer-causing pollutant in America, worse than the pipes and tanks of chemical plants, worse than factory smokestacks, worse than that incinerator you are always swearing about. Bad as that incinerator is, it doesn't vent into the living room of your lovely, airtight apartment.

The compounds in the smoke from your cigarette include 43 known cancer-causing agents, including formaldehyde, benzene and pyrobenzene. Remember how you used to make us roll up the car windows when you filled the tank with gas? So we wouldn't breathe the benzene in the fumes? Pretty ironic, isn't it.

I know that you always keep a window open in the apartment to air out the place, but that's apparently not good enough. Here's what the EPA booklet "The Inside Story: A Guide to Indoor Air Quality" says about that: "Because smoking produces such large amounts of pollutants, natural or mechanical ventilation techniques do not remove them from the air in your home as quickly as they build up."

I have been thinking about all of this ever since I talked to Mom. But I hadn't planned to say anything to you about it. Then I happened to read this in a story about air pollution in our paper: Very young children exposed to smoking at home have a reduced resistance to respiratory infections and are more likely to be hospitalized for bronchitis and pneumonia.

Dad, you and Mom are coming out here to celebrate the arrival of your new grandchild. Is secondhand smoke one of the gifts you want to bring?

Jughead and I have decided to ask you not to smoke in our apartment while you are here. We will provide you with a comfortable chair and an ashtray (OK, a plate, anyway) on the balcony, and we promise not to bug you about how much time you're spending out there.

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