By Maricha Harris
“Healthy – with 10 fingers and 10 toes” is a common response expecting parents give when asked “What do you want to have?” Well, if you asked me that question 11 years ago, I’d say “Full-term with strong lungs.” That’s because at 24 weeks gestation, I went into preterm labor with my second child. The experience was like Deja vu for me, because just two years earlier, my daughter had been born six weeks early.
While in the hospital, the doctors told me about the challenges that preemies face. At the top of the list – underdeveloped lungs. With both pregnancies, doctors gave me steroids to help speed lung development. Thankfully, they held off my labor for six weeks (with both pregnancies).
Despite medical efforts, my son was born at 30 weeks gestation in 2009, about one year before Wisconsin went smoke free.
My son lived in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) for six weeks and a day-and-a-half. He faced years of challenges due to his prematurity, and many of those challenges were respiratory challenges.
This year, on July 5, Wisconsin celebrated the 10-year anniversary of a Smoke-Free Wisconsin. For me, this anniversary inspires me to reflect on the journey my family and I have had over the past decade. In the early years of my son’s life, I did not have to worry about the impact of secondhand smoke. During those years, my son needed two inhalers, we could go to any restaurant or recreational facility, and I did not have to worry.
Studies show that African Americans are more likely to be exposed to secondhand smoke. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly half of nonsmoking African Americans are exposed to secondhand smoke, including 7 in 10 children.
Because of Smoke-Free Wisconsin, I was not concerned about the harmful effects of secondhand smoke on my children’s fragile lungs.
Congratulations to the state on the 10-year anniversary of Smoke-Free Wisconsin. As we celebrate, we must recognize that there’s still much work to do to address tobacco related health disparities. Organizations like the Wisconsin African American Tobacco Prevention Network (WAATPN) are working to reduce these disparities.
To learn more or to join the WAATPN please visit https://facebook.com/waatpn/.