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By Dana Stevens
Photo authorized for use to CASA
March 24, 2021 (San Diego’s East County) -- After a long difficult year that forced us all to alter our daily lives just to stay well, our priority for 2021 should be to continue protecting our health. As we look to improve our diets, start exercise routines, wear our masks, and get vaccinated, let’s make sure we also give equal attention to the air we breathe.
Tobacco and marijuana smoke and the aerosol expelled from electronic smoking devices damage the lungs and other organs of users as well as everyone around them. 
In 2006, the U.S. Surgeon General reported that there is  “no safe level of exposure to  secondhand smoke.” That same year, the California Air Resources Board designated secondhand smoke as a  “toxic air contaminant.”

Still, many San Diegans continue to be exposed to these cancer-causing toxins in outdoor public areas. In fact, in the past 2 years in the U.S., secondhand exposure to marijuana smoke has increased by 87%1 and exposure to vape has increased by 67%.2
Even more alarming is the possible connection between secondhand smoke and the Coronavirus.  According to the CDC, transmission risk of COVID-19 increases when people engage in behaviors that increase the likelihood of transferring respiratory droplets and when people engage in activities that increase the likelihood of touching their faces or mouths.3 Also, smokers aren’t wearing masks when they are taking a drag from a cigarette or vaping and they exhale more forcefully, meaning the particles they push out of their lungs travel even farther.4
Our best protection is to follow the example of many communities in San Diego County by passing smoke-free policies. Twelve municipalities — including the unincorporated areas of San Diego — have passed laws that ban smoking on restaurant, bar, and nightclub patios. Many cities, such as Coronado, El Cajon, and La Mesa, protect people from secondhand smoke in all public areas.
If you or someone you know smokes or vapes, let them know that it’s time to quit! Help is available. Find cessation support at 1-800-No-Butts. Phone counseling and text messaging services are available. They can help you prepare to quit, make a plan to quit, and support you with counseling.
Lung health has never been more important. Let’s ensure that the air we breathe is clean and smoke-free.
1. Moir, D., et al., A Comparison of Mainstream and Sidestream Marijuana and Tobacco Cigarette Smoke Produced Under Two Machine Smoking Conditions. American Chemical Society, 2008. 21: p. 494-502.
2. TOBACCO FREE CA. Secondhand Smoke Increase: 2019 Awareness Campaign.
3. CDC webinar, March 2021
4. Curley, B. Can Secondhand Smoke Transmit the Novel Coronavirus.  Healthline. August 17, 2020.
Dana Stevens is the executive director of Community Action Service & Advocacy (CASA). The opinions in this editorial reflect the views of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of East County Magazine. To submit an editorial for consideration, contact

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