WASHINGTON COUNTY - Nearly all of Washington County's more than 20 restaurants partnered with the Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Washington County this week to help raise awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke.
The restaurants teamed up with DOH programs Washington County Tobacco Free Partnership and Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT), agreeing to distribute activity placemats that provided information about asthma on World Asthma Day, which was observed Tuesday, May 3.

WASHINGTON COUNTY - Nearly all of Washington County's more than 20 restaurants partnered with the Florida Department of Health (DOH) in Washington County this week to help raise awareness about the dangers of secondhand smoke.

The restaurants teamed up with DOH programs Washington County Tobacco Free Partnership and Students Working Against Tobacco (SWAT), agreeing to distribute activity placemats that provided information about asthma on World Asthma Day, which was observed Tuesday, May 3.

For a photo gallery of local restaurants that participated in World Asthma Day recognition, click here.

The observance of World Asthma Day kicked off "Secondhand Smoke Exposed," a new initiative from the DOH Tobacco Free Florida program. The initiative is geared to educate Washington County residents about the dangers of second-hand smoke as part of the eight annual Tobacco Free Florida Week, taking place May 8-14.

Secondhand Smoke Exposed focuses on dispelling the common myth that secondhand smoke is harmless. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), breathing even small amounts of secondhand smoke can be dangerous.

In addition to their recent collaboration with local restaurants, SWAT and the Washington County Tobacco Free Partnership will also participate in the Washington-Holmes Relay for Life event on May 14 to gain community support for smoke-free parks and public spaces in an effort to better protect children from the harmful effects of secondhand smoke.

Despite the growing trend of smoke-free policies and the substantial decrease of smokers in the state, local DOH officials say many of Washington County’s most vulnerable are still involuntarily affected by secondhand smoke.

The HHS reports secondhand smoke has hundreds of toxic chemicals - including about 70 that are known to cause cancer and greatly increases the risk of lung cancer, which is Florida’s number-one form of terminal cancer. Each year, primarily due to secondhand smoke exposure, an estimated 7,300 non-smoking Americans die of lung cancer.

“Many people are unaware of how detrimental secondhand smoke exposure can be to one’s health,” said Tobacco Free Florida Bureau Chief Valerie Lacy. “The goal of this year’s Tobacco Free Florida Week is to make sure all Floridians are aware of the dangers of secondhand smoke. We encourage Floridians to join the fight against tobacco and help make Florida a healthier state for all.”

Washington County Tobacco Prevention Coordinator Sharron Hobbs points to results of the 2014 Florida Youth Tobacco Survey as an example of why there is a need for awareness.

"According to (the survey), 57.5 percent of 11 to 17 year olds in Washington County were exposed to secondhand smoke during the past seven days (in a room or a car)," said Hobbs. "That's compared to 37.5 percent statewide. Of the same group of students surveyed, 19.5 percent have suffered from an asthma attack in the past year. Now more than ever, there's evidence that secondhand smoke causes serious health consequences. Children are particularly sensitive to the effects of secondhand smoke, and too many youth are exposed."

May is also Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. and tobacco smoke is one of the most common asthma triggers. Children with asthma who are exposed to secondhand smoke are likely to experience more frequent and more severe attacks, which can put their lives in danger. In fact, more than 40 percent of children who go to the emergency room for asthma attacks live with smokers.

DOH in Washington County supports local tobacco-related interventions, including raising public awareness about subject areas related to secondhand smoke. From guiding a multiunit housing property through the process of going smoke-free, to presenting the benefits of a tobacco free college campus, representatives in Washington County offer various services, including assisting in smoking cessation. Floridians who want to quit smoking are encouraged to use Tobacco Free Florida’s free and proven-effective services. More information is available at tobaccofreeflorida.com.

Additionally, residents in Washington County and throughout the state benefit from the Florida Clean Indoor Air Act (FCIAA), which was amended in 2003 to prohibit smoking in indoor workplaces. The Florida Department of Health has a dedicated phone line (1-800-337-3742) for the reporting violations of the FCIAA.