What’s the cost of tobacco? It’s hard to tell exactly, but I see plenty of indicators.
When I had virus-related bronchitis last year, even a little secondhand smoke, inhaled on the way to class, could set off 10, 15 or even 30 minutes of intermittent hacking, often when I tried to lead class discussion or explain assignments.
What’s the cost for me and my students?
Not as much as the $98,000 in cancer-related medical bills received by my stepfather, Walt, since a softball-sized growth was found at the bottom of his esophagus. It has mystified a large team of doctors, and Walt has eaten little food for two years. But we know it was cancerous, that it had spread a bit, and that the bizarre casing around the cancer that kept Walt from eating also may have saved his life. Walt, a reformed smoker, is certain tobacco didn’t help him.
Wheezing through class isn’t as expensive as the shots my son Sam, now 9, received as an infant. Born seven weeks premature, he spent his initial months sheltered because of respiratory vulnerabilities. Multiple injections at more than $1,000 each helped him ward off respiratory synctial virus.
Walt’s share of the huge medical bills has been exactly zero because of his insurance. Our share of more than $50,000 in birth-related bills was barely over $500. For those reduced costs, my family and I thank each person reading this.
We all foot the bill. UWSP’s state employees certainly need no lessons on who pays for insurance.
Money isn’t the entire equation. The diminished quality of Walt’s life and the sleepless nights we spent when my son’s heart and breathing monitor constantly went off are events we wish on no one.
We all know these costs. Whose circle of friends and family hasn’t been affected severely by tobacco? The facts are staggering: at least $4.5 billion in health-related costs in Wisconsin annually with clear ties between tobacco and the six major causes of death in the U.S.
There’s no question about tobacco’s harm. Yet we hesitate.
On Nov. 14, the SGA and others are sponsoring an open forum from 4-6 p.m. in the DUC Theater for all to speak about campus tobacco policy. The SGA has asserted that it would like to be done with this issue.
I believe that leaves us with one choice: a tobacco-free campus. If we banned it tomorrow, we’d be the 58th to do so in Wisconsin alone – unimpressive for a campus that prides itself on being a healthy, sustainable community.
The train barrels on, but we’re not riding.
In May, the faculty senate refused to endorse even the idea of a referendum on tobacco. As a senator, I’m ashamed for not speaking up then. I immediately joined a campus-wide ad-hoc committee backed by Spark, an American Lung Association-affiliated effort whose goal is to rid campuses of tobacco.
I can’t speak for my fellow committee members, but I’ve realized the costs of my inaction are too great. I’ll be at the forum. And if it fails to help us reach our goal, I’ll remember that speaking out, again and again, is among the least expensive of my worries.