Letter: Forcing employees to breath toxic chemicals

There was a time when some American workers were forced to breathe toxic chemicals. These chemicals caused 2.5 million deaths over a 50-year period. During that same time, 100,000 babies died due to exposure to these same chemicals.


When in our past did these horrible things occur? The sad truth is they are happening right now. Those statistics are for the last 50 years to the present.

Though smoking laws are now protecting the public in Juneau and Anchorage, restaurant and bar staff and musicians are still being exposed to secondhand smoke in their workplaces throughout the rest of Alaska. Second-hand smoke contains over 250 harmful chemicals, at least 69 of which are known to cause a variety of cancers, according to the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org/cancer/cancercauses/tobaccocancer/secondhand-smoke). And they cause more than just cancer.

Each year in the U.S. there are an estimated 42,000 deaths from heart disease and 7,000 deaths of non-smoker due to lung cancer. Those 2.5 million deaths I mentioned above are just the non-smokers who died from exposure to secondhand smoke.

As a non-smoker and professional musician for the past 28 years, if I wanted to work I had to breathe thick second-hand smoke for four or five hours a night. That is until that wonderful day when smoking was finally eliminated in the bars and restaurants in Juneau.

Gone were my hacking coughs. My asthma greatly improved. The lethargy and smoke-headaches the next day and the worry about the increasing risk of cancer and other diseases were no more. At my first smoke-free performance I was stunned at how much better I felt the next day. I had figured that secondhand smoke had a negative effect but never dreamed how much. This change has likely added many years to my life.

I support smoke-free workplaces (Senate Bill 1) so that my fellow musicians as well as bar and restaurant staff throughout the rest of Alaska, who today are still forced to work in smoke-filled environments, will one day not suffer cancer and heart disease as an occupational hazard.

Sometimes when something has been accepted for so long, we lose the perspective to see how wrong it is. Today, we wouldn’t think of allowing businesses to force their employees to breathe asbestos. We should not allow them to force employees to breath the dangerous chemicals in secondhand smoke, either.

Jason Caputo



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