Lockdown forcing families to second-hand smoke

Cancer Council NSW
Young family sitting on the couch at home.

Cancer Council NSW is urging people to quit smoking this lockdown, not only for your mental and physical health, but for that of your neighbours.

Young Paddington resident, Jack MacGonigal lost his grandmother to smoking-related lung cancer and is now being exposed to dangerous second-hand smoke daily. He said, “I am 13 years old, I live in a terrace in Paddington, and I am a smoker. Shocking, I know, but I have inhaled tobacco smoke since I was a baby and there is very little my parents can do to protect me.”

“The problem is that my neighbours are smokers. There are three adults that live in the terrace beside me, they are all heavily addicted to nicotine, and they smoke in their courtyard and on their front balcony from early in the morning until late at night.”

Tobacco smoking is one of the largest preventable causes of death and disease in Australia. It is well known that there is no safe level of exposure to passive smoke, and the impacts on children are particularly severe.

“Covid has locked us in our homes and made us ever more reliant on our living space. Our terrace is now my mum and dad’s other workplace and for the last few weeks, for my sister and I, it has been our school; my courtyard is my playground. And yet I can’t use it because the neighbours’ smoke. And when I study at the desk in my bedroom, for the same reason I can’t open a window,” Jack continued.

North Epping resident and father of two toddlers, Pete Muller said, “Over 100 times in the last six months someone in my household has breathed in cigarette smoke. I have stopped my kids mid-play from jumping as a family on the trampoline to come inside. I have checked on my sleeping kids and breathed in smoke with them while they were sleeping.

“This problem has only been exacerbated during COVID and lockdowns. Working from home has transformed my home into my office. And for my children their home has become their preschool. It would be completely unacceptable for a person to smoke at work and affect others and what would happen if the preschool your children or grandchildren attended couldn’t use their outdoor play area because of cigarette smoke? It is not acceptable in either setting so why should it be acceptable in my current setting?”

Cancer Council NSW’s Tobacco Control Manager, Alecia Brooks said, “There are currently laws in place to protect residents from nuisances such as barking dogs or offensive noise but not second-hand smoke exposure in their own homes. Homes like Jack’s in Paddington, and many more across our state are narrow and residents often live in close proximity to each other. Second-hand smoke can travel through doorways, cracks in walls, electrical lines, ventilation systems and plumbing. Meaning even if people are smoking away from a neighbouring property, smoke drift is still an issue. That’s why we’re urging smokers to consider not just their own health, but the health of those around them, and use this opportunity to quit once and for all.”

“It doesn’t make sense to me that my neighbours right to smoke tobacco overrides my family’s right to protect ourselves from cigarette smoke exposure, our right to breathe clean air in our own home,” said 13 year-old Jack.

While there have been significant reductions in the number of daily smokers over the years, tobacco smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Australia. Current smokers and ex-smokers continue to be affected by the harm of smoking on their health, and the health of non-smokers is also being harmed through exposure to second-hand smoke.

“We know that stress and anxiety caused by the pandemic may have made it harder for people to quit, so we want our communities to know we are here and that there are a number of quit methods available. No matter how long you have smoked, quitting will benefit your health, and the health of those around you in both the immediate and long-term future. Ultimately, every person has the right to breathe clean air free from tobacco smoke, especially within their own home,” Ms Brooks concluded.

For advice or support on how to quit smoking call the Quitline on 13 78 48.

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