Same effects, different cigarettes

I thought it was my right to smoke. When people would pass by me and cover their mouths and make a face, I would get irritated. There was enough air for everyone, why were people judging me based on my personal choice? I continued this way for ten long years.

Little did I know my lungs were becoming dangerously fragile. So fragile that one day when I was cleaning, the combination of bleach fumes and a decade of smoking caught up to me. My lung collapsed. I was rushed to the hospital and remained in the ICU for three weeks where I was unable to breathe without the help of a bypass machine. I was only 33-years-old at the time. The doctors told me I would die if I smoked again and at that moment, my life changed. I wanted to take action.

Currently I am enrolled at Los Medanos Community College in Contra Costa County, where smoking is prohibited. However, many students are unaware of the campus smoking policies. Because of this, I often run into students smoking on-campus. Secondhand smoke is dangerous, but it is especially harmful to students like me, who have severe lung conditions. Because of my lungs, I can’t be exposed to smoke – even smelling smoke can be potentially life threatening. I have even had to miss class entirely because I wasn’t able to make it across campus without coming in contact with smoke.

To make matters worse, cigarettes aren’t the only tobacco-related problem on campus anymore. E-cigarettes are becoming extremely popular and come in a variety of flavors that appeal to young adults.  Because they don’t smell like traditional cigarettes, people assume they are harmless. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case. While e-cigarettes may be less harmful than traditional cigarettes, they aren’t as safe as they are marketed. Many contain nicotine and a variety of other harmful chemicals. It’s not harmless water vapor either. E-cigarettes emit an aerosol, which contains toxins like lead, formaldehyde and nickel, which not only pose health risks to those who use them, but to people around them as well.

Many people think vaping threatens Big Tobacco and using e-cigs is a way to reduce dependence on tobacco. What they don’t realize is that Big Tobacco owns many of the top selling e-cig brands and profit immensely from their sales. This makes me feel as if, once again, tobacco is targeting our schools and our students. This feels personal, since I know firsthand how deadly tobacco products can be.

Unfortunately, though Los Medanos has a no smoking policy in place, these rules often go unenforced and do not include e-cigarettes.

Ultimately, it is every student’s right to have equal access to education and the ability to attend classes without putting their health at risk. As part of my work with the Black Caucus for Community Colleges, I helped pass a resolution for 100 percent smoke and tobacco free (including e-cigarettes) community college campuses throughout California. While this is a huge step in the right direction, we have a long way to go to educate community colleges and protect all students from the risks of secondhand smoke and secondhand aerosol.