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1% of deaths worldwide due to secondhand smoke - including my dad

Posted Nov 26 2010 12:00am
My kind and beloved mom. I miss her every day. Photo: Sally Kneidel

My mother was a chain smoker; she died of pancreatic cancer, which is linked to smoking.

My dad didn't smoke at all, but he died of lung cancer.

Secondhand smokes kills 603,000 per year

So I wasn't too surprised to see in today's paper that secondhand smoke kills 603,000 people per year. That's in addition to the 5.1 million killed annually from smoking itself.

165,000 children die yearly of smoke-related illnesses

The study I saw in the newspaper was conducted by the World Health Organization. Armando Peruga of WHO said the organization was particularly concerned about the 165,000 children who die of smoke-related respiratory infections, mostly in Southeast Asia and Africa. I found that interesting, having recently returned from a stay in Southeast Asia.

In Southeast Asia it's customary for men to smoke, part of the masculine subculture

I noticed in Malaysia and Indonesia that most men smoke, while no women do. When I asked about it in Indonesia, a local told me that it's taboo for women to smoke, but it's a "custom" for men and especially all nature guides to smoke, particularly while leading treks. I found that odd. I also found it annoying to be engulfed in cigarette smoke while trying to stand absolutely still to photograph skittish wildlife. I noticed that Southeast Asian men seem to have no awareness that their smoke may be bothersome to others nearby. Smoking takes place anywhere and everywhere, and I never saw anyone react negatively to it except myself.

Most of these cigarette brands originated in the United States.  Here, they're for sale behind the counter in Gentingmas, a small food shop in Sandakan, Malaysia, on the island of Borneo. Photo: Sally Kneidel

North Carolina is the home of corporate tobacco

Of course, almost all of the cigarettes the Asian men smoked were brands that originated in America, which was embarrassing. Local stores sold Marlboros, Pall Malls, Kents, Winstons, Salems. I live less than 100 miles from the town of Winston-Salem, NC, home of R.J. Reynolds, one of the world's largest cigarette corporations.

Children of smoking parents have not only an increased risk of death, but many related illnesses

Peruga of WHO went on to say that children whose parents smoke have a higher risk of sudden infant death syndrome, ear infections, pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma. Their lungs may also grow more slowly than kids whose parents don't smoke.

Women impacted most by secondhand smoke

The WHO study, published last Friday in the medical journal Lancet, reported that secondhand smoke has its biggest impact on women, killing about 281,000 yearly. In many parts of the world, women are at least 50 percent more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke than men. That makes sense given what I observed in Indonesia and Malaysia. The men are doing the smoking, while the women and children are breathing it. And the social custom seems to be to pretend that the smoke is not a problem.

She told me cigarettes were her best friend

I remember going out to eat with my parents one Sunday when I was a kid; my brothers weren't there. I complained in the car about the cigarette smoke and I complained again at the table. My dad told me to nip it, he said my biting my fingernails was more annoying than the smoke so I had no room to talk. I know he was just trying to protect my mom, to let her enjoy her cigarettes in peace. She always did say that cigarettes were her best friend. Even after the aneurysm ruptured in her head and left her severely brain damaged (2 years before the pancreatic cancer killed her), she used to feign smoking. She'd sit upright in her bed and go through all the motions of smoking, putting her empty fingers to her lips, drawing in deeply and blowing out the imaginary smoke. She didn't realize the cigarette was missing. Poor mama, she did that right up to the end. A true North Carolinian - born, bred, and dead in the land of tobacco.  She may have loved her cigs, but I can't say they loved her back.

Me and my two dear Malaysian friends, Ria and Nola. They work in the Gentingmas shop on Borneo, where I did a lot of food shopping. They befriended me on sight. The shop sells Marlboros and Winstons like most Asian shops. But Ria and Nola don't smoke and neither do I.  Photo: Ken Kneidel
Cited:
"Secondhand smoke kills more than 600,000 a year. New study shows global impact of secondhand smoke; children account for more than one-quarter of deaths each year." CBS News. London, November 25, 2010.

Maria Cheng. "600,000 deaths a year blamed on secondhand smoke" Associated Press. Reprinted in Charlotte Observer, November 26, 2010.

One of my recent posts about the tobacco industry's marketing to minors:
New studies show fast foods "kids meals" loaded with calories and fat

Key words: 600,000 deaths secondhand smoke cigarettes WHO cancer lung cancer respiratory disease
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