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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, April 7, 2006

Pass the bill and kill secondhand killer

By Jimmy Borges

I wholeheartedly agree with the March 20 Advertiser editorial ("State anti-smoking law needs update") and Senate Bill 3262 (Healthy Air and Workplace Act).

I've been singing in nightclubs for over 50 years, and more than just a few of my friends have passed on due to the direct result of smoking, including Nat "King" Cole and Sammy Davis Jr.

Secondhand smoke is just as lethal.

The Environmental Protection Agency classifies it as a Group A carcinogen. And numerous studies show that it is as deadly, if not more deadly, than smoking. Scientific evidence in the Journal of the American Heart Association earlier this year found that secondhand smoke has a larger impact on the cardiovascular system than previously thought. The effects on blood, blood vessels and heart rhythm occur quickly often within minutes.

I can attest to this. I was smoking up to three packs a day when I quit on Jan. 20, 1989. A few years later, I also decided to quit working nightclubs because of all the secondhand smoke I'd be inhaling.

My last lung X-ray from Holistica showed my lungs completely free of tars, but it took 15-plus years to clear them. I believe the fact that I quit smoking cigarettes saved my life. I worked hard to clean up my health, and I don't want to be the victim of someone else's unintentional suicide.

I'm lucky because my financial situation allows me to pick and choose my gigs. Many of my peers are still working the clubs and bars because they have to in order to survive but they're being harmed by the secondhand smoke permeating their workplace. It's a "Catch-22" for them as the law now stands. They need to work to live, but working is going to kill them.

In a place that values the environment, Hawai'i's hard-working men and women are entitled to a healthy workplace. It is increasingly evident that this needs to include being free of the effects of secondhand smoke. We should not have to put our health at risk to earn a living.

Hawai'i needs to join the growing number of states that have comprehensive laws to protect people in public places and workplaces from secondhand smoke.

Even entire countries, such as Italy, Spain and Ireland, have adopted protections for those who choose not to smoke. Usually in the forefront of worker and health concerns, Hawai'i now needs to catch up.

Passing this bill will help save the lives of my entertainer friends, not to mention the bar and wait staff, and all of the other Hawai'i workers who are subjected to secondhand smoke in the workplace.

Smokers would still be able to smoke their cigarettes, but not at the expense of those who don't wish to be exposed to it.

Jimmy Borges is a local entertainer. He wrote this commentary for The Advertiser.