Family Life is a new column for and about families. Each Saturday, columnist Jan Hofmann, a mother of two who has reported on family matters since 1980, will explore, through our readers' opinions and experiences, the complex and sometimes comical issues that affect family relationships. From ex's to in-laws, from seven-year-olds to the seven-year itch, Family Life will provide a forum.
The war against smoking has moved into a new battlefield: the home front.
Depending on which side of the struggle you're on, a lot of territory has been won (or lost) lately, thanks to new laws, business policies and social standards limiting smoking in public places, restaurants, government facilities and the work place.
Now the clear-the-air people, armed with the latest studies about the dangers of secondhand smoke, have targeted the family for their next campaign.
The American Lung Assn., for example, has chosen Orange County as one of several sites nationwide for a pilot project called Smoke-Free Families. "That's our big theme for the year," says Debra Mahood, director of smoking education and occupational health for the Orange County chapter. It's all in keeping with Surgeon General C. Everett Koop's goal of a smoke-free society by the year 2000. The American Cancer Society, meanwhile, is targeting this year's kindergartners as the beginning of a "smoke-free generation."
But being a smoke-free family isn't as easy as it might seem, even for those who are most committed to the concept. Just when you think you've taken care of everybody, along comes a cousin, an in-law or a surreptitious teen-ager who refuses to go along with the idea.
Can smokers and non-smokers coexist peacefully in the same family? We asked former smokers and non-smoking members of some Orange County families to tell us how they really feel about the issue.
For 20 years, Rosemary, 45, who lives in Orange, went outside every time she smoked a cigarette so that it wouldn't bother her nonsmoking husband. "He never really bothered me about it at all," she says. "But I was always conscious of being a nuisance to him."
Then a year and a half ago, Rosemary and her husband discovered that the youngest of their four daughters, 13-year-old Susan, was a smoker, as well as being addicted to drugs and alcohol. When Susan went into the hospital, Rosemary decided to quit smoking.
"I thought I had to set an example and take care of myself," Rosemary says. "How could she quit drugs and alcohol if I was still smoking?" In the process of quitting, Rosemary says, "I kept track of all the times I wanted a cigarette, and I realized I was smoking whenever I was angry at my husband. That's when I decided I had to let the marriage go. He was the cause of my needing the cigarettes, really."
Rosemary and her husband are happily separated now, and Susan is doing better. Although she's avoiding drugs and alcohol, Susan, now 15, still smokes. When she's at home, she must confine her cigarette breaks to the balcony of the apartment she shares with her mother.
Jules, 53, who lives in Westminster, has spoken out publicly against smoking for years. "But it's more difficult to approach a member of the family than it is a perfect stranger," he says. "It causes animosities, and I have to quite often consciously refrain from getting involved in discussions regarding smoking with my family."
Although his own household is smoke-free, Jules says the problems come up when the extended family gets together for holidays or other occasions. "My sister, my brother-in-law, and my brother's wife's parents are all heavy smokers, and that gets to be a problem at big holiday meals. It's gradually evolved that in most of our homes, the smokers go outside. However, when we're guests at my sister's home, it doesn't register with them that their smoking inside the house is making things unpleasant for all of us."
Vicki, 32, of Irvine, was a "part-time smoker" three years ago when she married another smoker, Leonard, 38. But she quit soon afterward when they decided to have a baby. "He tried to quit then, too," she says. "It lasted about two days.
"It's hard when you have one smoker and one nonsmoker," Vicki says. "I just couldn't handle the smell. It was in his hair, in his clothes, everywhere. So I made him start smoking out on the patio after we had our son Christopher. If it was really bad weather, I'd let him put a chair next to the patio screen door and blow the smoke out.
"I ragged on him a lot, you know, do you have to do it? Sometimes I'd be sarcastic and say, 'Nice cough.' "
Two months ago, Leonard quit. "I'm absolutely in love with my 10-month-old son, and I was killing myself with cigarettes. I wanted to stay around and watch him grow up," he says.
Even if Leonard hadn't quit, Vicki says, "I would have put up with it. But I definitely wouldn't be as happy as I am now."