Your View: Help Alexandria breathe free of cigarette smoke

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To the editor:

  One of the major goals of the Clean and Smoke-Free Air Coalition of Alexandria is to motivate and assist tobacco users of all ages to quit smoking and make effective resources available to those who are ready to quit. This is why we very much support the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout Day on November 17, which encourages everyone to walk away from tobacco for 24 hours.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control show that 70 percent of adult smokers say they want to quit, but many report they don’t have the resources to do so. Nevertheless, in 2008, about 45 percent of adult smokers actually attempted to quit. Tobacco dependence is a chronic condition often requiring repeated interventions, but effective treatments and helpful resources exist: Train2Quit is an interactive online program that will walk you through the steps to becoming tobacco-free. Also, you can call the state Quitline at 1-800-QUIT NOW; it provides free, evidence-based, individualized counseling by highly trained coaches.

National data tell us the fastest growing segment of the adult smoking population is young adults, between the ages of 19 to 25. We also know that among adults who smoke, almost 70 percent began smoking regularly at age 18 or younger. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “every day nearly 3,500 children under 18 try their first cigarette, and about 850 of them become regular smokers. And almost 300 of those will eventually die prematurely from tobacco addiction.”

Another tobacco-related concern within Alexandria is the level of involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke. The surgeon general of the United States has affirmed “there is no risk-free exposure to secondhand smoke; even a brief exposure to secondhand smoke can be harmful.” 

The Clean and Smoke-Free Air Coalition of Alexandria — one of four work groups of the Partnership for a Healthier Alexandria — was established to make recommendations to prevent death and disease within our community caused by tobacco use and involuntary exposure to secondhand smoke. The group is working hard to develop a plan that will enable Alexandrians to say proudly, by the end of 2015, Alexandria is the most smoke-free city of its size in America. 

Among the various kinds of strategies under consideration for achieving this vision are: restricting minors’ access to tobacco; encouraging teen leadership at T.C. Williams High School to initiate tobacco prevention programs; encouraging health providers to screen for tobacco use; increasing awareness of and access to effective smoking cessation services; discouraging smoking in public spaces especially where children may be present; encouraging parents not to smoke in their home or in their cars; and fostering smoke-free air policies in multiunit housing. 

Each year, every surgeon general reaffirms what their predecessors have been saying for the past 20 years: “Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death and disease in America.” We welcome other members of the Alexandria community to join with the coalition and the partnership in our vision of making Alexandria the most smoke-free city of its size in America. 

– Richard E. Merritt

Chair, Clean and Smoke-Free Air Coalition of Alexandria

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