A smoking ban passed in New Orleans went viral across the city after midnight on Wednesday, April 22, putting out a once legal habit in a number of public facilities including bars, restaurants and entertainment venues (“Smoking ban goes into effect in New Orleans”, 2015). It’s a strikingly health conscious move that follows in the footsteps of many other cities, including New York, Chicago and Houston (“Comprehensive Smoke-Free Laws — 50 Largest U.S. Cities, 2000 and 2012”). Concerns about smoking’s impact on public health won against anticipated lost revenues, underscoring an investment in community health at the expense of tobacco companies and local economy. Such a shift in community politics suggests emphasis on tackling health problems not just in the medical arena; it also advocates heightened social awareness and responsibility to confront health issues on local, national and global fronts.
Consider these statistics, as we ask ourselves why the ban in New Orleans impacts each of us, whether directly or indirectly. According to the World Health Organization (“Tobacco Fact Sheet”), tobacco is a worldwide epidemic that kills 6 million people each year. Of those millions, approximately 5 million are killed as a result of direct tobacco consumption, and the remaining are non-smokers killed due to second-hand smoke. In the United States alone, 16 million people live with medical conditions that are caused by smoking. It’s clear that these figures indicate both global and national needs to continue to develop and implement creative and meaningful interventions that will influence a decrease in tobacco use.
Agencies have implemented marketing programs like the FDA’s Tips From Former Smokers to raise awareness of the health consequences of smoking, and they continue to fund research studies that explore effective large-scale solutions. One study recently conducted by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration concludes that a raise in the minimum legal age for purchasing tobacco products would significantly diminish the prevalence of teenage smoking. While federal, state and community interventions have been established to impact the reduction of tobacco use, and others proposed remain to be seen, we still face a threat to public health that in some way, to some degree, impacts us all. By focusing on how we can raise awareness in our daily lives to support a tobacco-free lifestyle, we are able to contribute to those larger-scale efforts.
Across all prevention and intervention programs, research studies and awareness campaigns, the common denominator is clear: mindfulness. When we can cultivate mindfulness practice in our lives, whether by promoting and enforcing city bans, engaging in smoking cessation programs or advocating for youth drug education, we are more likely to spread and successfully maintain a smoking-free culture around ourselves and in our communities.
Mindfulness as a research-proven psychological concept encourages the recognition and release of feelings and thoughts with a spirit of non-judgmentalness and acceptance. It’s an individual practice of shifting attention to moment to moment internal and external experiences, sometimes with the help of an object of focus, such as our breathing or the sound of a bell ringing. As a concept, mindfulness has its basis in Buddhist mindfulness meditation philosophy, which teaches students to let go of their subjective internal experiences and to be present with the here and now, as opposed to being attached to past events and future outcomes. Mindfulness is an exercise in bringing ourselves back to our ultimate intentions to serve ourselves and others in all areas of life. So how do smoking bans promote mindfulness, and how can we promote it in our own lives?
An answer by a Buddhist monk answers these questions. In his book book Peace is Every Step (Hanh, 1991), Thich Nhat Hanh shares a story when a friend of his found stop lights aggravating during his commutes on the road. Thich Nhat Hanh recommends to his friend to try welcoming the stop lights as an reminder to slow down and appreciate the opportunity to be present in the moment. After trying this approach, the friend changes his perspective and reframes driving obstacles as a mindfulness practice. Like the stop lights in this story, comprehensive smoking bans are just one form of mindfulness that encourages tobacco users to stop and reflect upon their intention to better serve their health and the health of others.
We can incorporate conscious mindfulness practices to influence the reduction of smoking into our communities. Smokers can speak with a doctor to learn how they can medically move toward a more mindful approach to smoking cessation. Therapists trained in substance use disorders are able to guide counseling for smokers in a mindful way with the aid of approaches that heighten self-awareness. Craving to Quit is just one of many smoking cessations programs that supports smokers in their cessation journey by implementing a mindfulness approach. Meditation and yoga are mindfulness practices that welcome individuals of all levels to develop a more mindful relationships with their selves, their habits and their communities.
Davis, K. (2015, April 22). Smoking ban goes into effect in New Orleans. Retrieved April 23, 2015, from http://www.wdsu.com/news/local-news/new-orleans/smoking-ban-goes-into-effect-in-new-orleans/32502054
Comprehensive Smoke-Free Laws — 50 Largest U.S. Cities, 2000 and 2012. (2012, November 16). Retrieved April 23, 2015, from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6145a3.htm?s_cid= mm6145a3.htm_w
Hanh, T. (1991). Peace is Every Step (pp. 33-34). New York, New York: Bantam Books.
Tobacco Fact Sheet. (2014, May 1). Retrieved April 23, 2015, from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs339/en/