Our smoking weather forecast | The JOLT News Organization, a Washington-based nonprofit

By Debra L. Glasser, MD

This weekend we were warned of poor air quality due to wildfire smoke coming from fires in the eastern part of the state.

What can we do about it? We can’t stop it, but we have options on what to do during this time, including:

  • Stay indoors and minimize the risk to our health by breathing this smoke and particles into our lungs.
  • Choose activities that are different from what we might have planned.
  • Leave the area. For some of us, exposure to smoke is quite intolerable. Others (eg, those with severe asthma and emphysema, or COPD) will suffer more than usual.
  • Or we can stick to our plans, take a calculated risk, and feel discomfort we wouldn’t otherwise have.

We can be thankful this summer that we’ve been spared wildfire smoke more than some of the previous years, our homes aren’t at risk like those near the fires and that’s something we don’t deal with not all the time.

As humans in Olympia right now, we have choices no matter how we feel about the situation – to dislike, be sad for the forests, or don’t care.

Smokers also have a choice.

These times remind me of smokers. They live in a perpetual air quality alert. What can they do?

My last assignment as a physician was in palliative home care. The patients we admitted and treated for COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease – formerly known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis) were among the youngest hospitalized patients dying from a chronic disease, most in their 50s and 70s. All were smokers, some actively, including one who started a fire in his home and badly burned his face while smoking while using his oxygen. They were all on oxygen.

As a grateful non-smoker (grateful because I’ve observed tobacco addiction to be the hardest to kick), I can assure you that the inability to breathe is a terrifying experience.

I know this personally, having had asthma since I was 12 years old. Professionally, I can tell you that being unable to breathe is one of the few miserable ways to die.

Like the rest of us living in this temporary air quality alert, smokers have choices too – including the ones we have. Some don’t want to stop. It is their choice. “Hopefully they don’t expose too many people to their second-hand smoke (also a health risk).

Unless they stop, hopefully they can stop blaming themselves and everyone else will stop blaming and pressuring them. Tobacco offers them something they don’t have access to otherwise. We all take risks; it is theirs. Let smokers have peace with their choice.

The magic of numbers for those who would stop

However, if you are a smoker and want to quit but can’t, don’t worry! It’s normal! You are normal! Studies show that for most smokers, it takes many tries and fails (up to eight or more), and after your own magic number of tries: voila! You succeed. Keep trying if that’s what you want.

When you quit, you’ll add years to your life and make yourself and everyone who cares about you happy. You will feel better as soon as you clear all the mucus from your lungs that was stuck because tobacco smoke caused the little hairs that come out of the mucus (medically called eyelashes) to a malfunction.

Welcome to the group of non-smokers who only receive temporary air quality alerts!

Make your choices and, personally, I hope you don’t choose to run a marathon this weekend!

If you choose to explore smoking cessation, Washington State has several resources for you; many are personalized and most are free. How to reach them? Your choices:

  • Visit the Quitline.com website.
  • Call the Quitline at 1-800-QUITNOW (1.800.784.8669)
  • Text READY to 200-400

Debra Glasser, MD, is a retired internal medicine physician who lives in Olympia. She enjoys outdoor recreation in our generally temperate climate.

Aubrey L. Morgan