When I was in the 7th grade, a group of the cool kids smoked, and one day I decided to join them. It turns out that it wasn’t so easy to pick up a cigarette and start smoking for the first time. While with my friends I didn’t inhale, but not for the lack of trying. That night, I went home to practice and ended up getting sick to my stomach. I never smoked again.
I was lucky that I never got hooked on smoking, because I know that quitting is no easy task for most people. Some surveys state that quitting smoking is the top resolution for Americans this year, but many of those who made the resolution have likely already succumbed to the lure of nicotine.
Sometimes a smoker who can’t quit to improve his or her own health is motivated to do so because he or she wants to protect another person or animal. That was the case with Eddie Lama, a construction contractor from a tough Brooklyn neighborhood who became an impassioned animal activist and whose story was told in the documentary film, The Witness.
Lama had been a 2-pack a day smoker of unfiltered cigarettes for 25 years. He readily admitted that smoking ruled his life and was convinced he would die smoking. His life changed when, one day in his smoke-filled living room, Lama looked at his beloved cat, Moo Moo, and realized that he had to quit smoking for Moo Moo. He explains his epiphany:
This animal had no choice. He couldn’t possibly get up, go to the door, turn the knob and say, ‘Look Eddie, I’m gettin’ outta here—it’s just too much smoke here!’ The sense that I was directly doing harm didn’t sit well with me. . . .That, with the fact that he was sitting right there looking at me. Don’t ask me if this really happened, but I could have sworn he coughed . . .I said, ‘that’s it,’ and the cigarette was extinguished.
Lama was right to worry that his smoking was endangering his cat. By quitting smoking, Lama likely extended the life of his cat as well as his own.
Researchers at Tufts’ School of Veterinary Medicine conducted a study in which they found that cats living in homes with smokers are twice as likely as cats living with non-smokers to acquire feline lymphoma cancer. In homes where the cats were exposed to smoking for five years or more, the cats’ cancer risk tripled, and in homes with two smokers, the cancer risk to the cats quadrupled.
Dogs who live with smokers are much more likely to get nasal cancer and lung cancer, both of which usually have a grim prognosis. Pet birds are hypersensitive to environmental contaminants and can develop pneumonia, lung cancer, and problems with their eyes, skin and heart when exposed to smoke.
It’s not just the inhalation of the smoke that is dangerous to animals. The ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center receives hundreds of calls each year about pets who have been sickened from ingesting cigarette butts or other tobacco products, such as chewing tobacco. A dog who consumes a large amount of cigarette butts or ash can have a grave prognosis, especially if he or she does not receive immediate treatment. Studies have also documented the deaths of pet birds as a result of the consumption of cigarette butts.
There are no ifs, ands, or “butts”—smoking around your pet will endanger him or her. If you can’t quit for your pet’s sake, at least try not to smoke indoors, and always properly dispose of your cigarette butts, even when you are outside.