We love to spend time in downtown Asheville because we really enjoy the vibrant street scene, musicians, festivals, characters and local restaurants, shops and bars.
When my wife got pregnant, we sought to rid our lives of toxins. We removed chemicals from our home, purchased only organic and non-GMO foods (those without genetically modified organisms) and even had our vehicle’s exhaust leak repaired. But there was one source of cancer-causing chemicals, poison gases and toxic metals that we could not escape and that was from smoking downtown.
While many people think that cigarettes are merely an annoyance, the U.S. government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists over 7,000 chemicals in cigarette smoke. These include the poisonous gases hydrogen cyanide, toluene and carbon monoxide, cancer-causing chemicals including formaldehyde, benzene and polonium 210 (radioactive) and toxic metals including lead and arsenic. When you smell cigarette smoke, you are inhaling these chemicals.
To walk downtown forces everyone to pass smokers on the street. The dangerous effects of secondhand smoke are well-documented, which is why most states, including North Carolina, have banned smoking inside businesses. This is a great first step but it puts smokers on the sidewalks.
To pass or enter a business downtown, especially a bar or restaurant, often forces people to walk through groups of smokers outside the door. Many restaurants have patios that allow smoking. This drives everyone else inside, but even worse these patios are often open to the restaurant allowing smoke to enter. There is simply no place downtown to avoid the class A carcinogens in cigarette smoke.
When Boulder, Colo., banned smoking indoors, it also banned smoking downtown, anticipating the hazards of smoke in the public right of way. Cigarette smoke is so toxic that studies at the University of California at Berkeley are now discovering even third-hand smoke, the residue on clothes, skin and hair, is toxic. The neonatal intensive-care unit at Mission Hospital doesn’t even allow smokers on the floor unless they have changed their clothes. Is this the kind of toxic downtown we want for our city?