Health hazard posed by outdoor smoking is real

July 16, 2011

Like Howard County Executive Ken Ulman, I am one of the over 17.5 million Americans with asthma, according to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. That is 7.7 percent of the population, almost as high a percentage as those who smoke in Howard County. So I read with dismay and surprise in the recent editorial ("Howard County is no nanny state," July 14) that The Sun and others do not consider outdoor smoking in a park to be a health hazard. Most picnic areas have a cloister of tables much closer than the article's cited 100-yard distance, and if someone comes to the table next to you and starts to puff, contrary to the implication in the article, it is not so simple to pack up all your stuff and move outside the danger zone.

And danger is exactly what it can be for an asthmatic. Over 3,000 people die each year from asthma. I have worked for years and years to overcome the limitations that smoke exposure and other environmental triggers have imposed on me, using a demanding combination of several medications and disciplined exercise. This has allowed me to run marathons in my 40s, something I could not even dream of in my smoke-exposed youth when I couldn't run 10 feet without suffering. But a good deep breath of smoke could affect my well-being not just for several minutes but for several days after the exposure is past.

Just because asthma is something you can't see in another is no reason to disregard it. If you want to know what the bronchial tube constriction feels like, try breathing in and out through a narrow drinking straw for a few minutes. It will take only a few minutes for you to try it, but for an asthmatic this can last days or years. It's hard, and eventually your muscles become sore and fatigued.

As I sit outside the CCBC Catonsville cafeteria on a simply gorgeous July day writing this letter, I hold my breath, literally and figuratively, that I might have to pick up all my stuff and move because students and others gather at these picnic tables to smoke. So hurray for Ken Ulman and Howard County. I strongly encourage CCBC and other colleges to do as Towson University has done and ban smoking from the campus altogether.

Wendy Peiffer, Perry Hall

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