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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Living with Asthma

Steve and Vanessa Lopez

For me going on vacation to Nicaragua isn't just about getting away for two weeks and relaxing. For me vacation means BREATHING. Literally! I can go for an hour long walk on the beach. I can go sight seeing in the mountains. I still take my asthma medication, but the affects of my asthma are not as pronounced in Nicaragua as they are here at home.

I am one of 20 million other people in the United States who have asthma.

Asthma is a chronic disease of the airways that makes breathing difficult. With asthma, there is inflammation of the air passages that result in a temporary narrowing of the airways that carry oxygen to the lungs. This results in asthma symptoms, including coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness.

I am also one of 469,000 Marylanders who have asthma I first had symptoms as a teenager, and despite being a non-smoker, my symptoms have gotten worse as I have gotten older. However, I'm one of the lucky ones because I have health insurance. According to the University of Maryland Baltimore County and the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation 18% of non-elderly adults with asthma don't have health insurance. .pdf Having insurance means I can afford to be treated by a pulmonary specialist. I can afford the inhalers I need on a daily basis and when it becomes difficult to breathe. In 2005 the average emergency room visit cost $665. When I occasionally need to go to the emergency room for a breathing treatment, my husband takes me, and we don't have to worry about how we are going to pay my rent, or feed our family. I believe that everyone should have access to health care as a basic human right. Even if you don't buy my left wing radical thinking, from a financial perspective it costs society a lot less when its citizenry is in good health.

I am so happy that the Maryland smoking ban went into effect on February 1, 2008. Personally, I don't think I would have banned smoking in bars, but I'm glad smoking is banned in restaurants and other public places. My husband loves cigars, he just doesn't smoke them in our house, or around me. I am glad that I can go to a restaurant and not be exposed to second hand smoke, even if I am sitting in the non-smoking section. I'm not going to start patronizing bars because of the smoking ban, but I am happy that it will be easier to enjoy dinner with my family at a restaurant without having second hand smoke trigger wheezing, coughing or an attack. Some smokers have stated that the smoking ban infringes on their rights, but I think my right to life takes precedence over a smokers right to smoke.

I also support the spirit of House Bill 1360 that is currently in the Maryland House of Delegates that would - -

This bill prohibits a person from smoking a tobacco product in a vehicle in which a child younger than six is a passenger. The prohibition against smoking applies to both the driver and other passengers… A person who violates this provision is subject to a maximum fine of $50.
Second hand smoke is harmful, despite what the tobacco companies tell us. The Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a known cause of cancer in humans. The current Surgeon General reports that scientific evidence indicates that there is no risk-free level of exposure to second hand smoke. However, I don't know if fining people is going to address the real issue. I don't believe that the average person wants to harm her or his children or another child. I believe that smoking is an addiction, and I think that the bill should focus on the problem, by helping people to overcome their addiction. If the bill passes, any fines collected would go into Maryland's general fund. I'd prefer that any fines collected go specifically toward smoking cessation programs in Maryland. Another alternative to fining people might be to have people complete a smoking cessation program.

I don't think smokers are bad people, and it isn't just smoke that triggers wheezing or attacks. Mold, pesticides, perfumes, are examples of other substances that have also caused me to have breathing problems. However, second hand smoke does affect my health. Even though I have asthma, my quality of life is decent. That is because of access to health insurance, and because of laws that ban smoking and protect our environment. I hope that one day I am able to enjoy an even better quality of life where I can breath without wheezing, where I can walk an hour a day, and where I am not constantly fatigued.

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