Janet Cordell, RN, has dedicated her life to improving the health of others. Cordell graduated from nursing school in 1972, moved to Enid in 1978, and has served the community as a registered nurse ever since. Today, despite being officially retired, Cordell still coordinates the Enid Community Clinic and teaches long-term care part time at Autry Technology Center.

But, even a life’s worth of medical training and knowledge could not spare Cordell the toll second-hand smoke cigarettes has taken on her lungs.

“I am an example of a person who has never smoked, but who has been greatly affected by second-hand smoke,” Cordell said.

The oldest of four children, Cordell grew up in a home in which both parents smoked.

Both of her parents answered the nation’s call to service during World War II. Her mother served as a Red Cross nurse for the Army, and her father served in the Army and survived the Bataan Death March in the Philippines.

Like many veterans of that war, both of Cordell’s parents picked up the habit while serving overseas, and came home smokers.

In a time before second-hand smoke cigarettes was well-understood, both of Cordell’s parents smoked in the house.

“I grew up in a household before we knew about the dangers of cigarette smoke, and we had a lot of smoking cigarettes in closed, poorly ventilated homes and in the car,” Cordell said.

She spent the majority of her time indoors, exposing her young lungs to the cigarette smoke.

“My three younger siblings were all very athletic, but I was the book worm,” Cordell said. “They joke and say the reason I have so many problems with my lungs is I stayed inside reading while they were outside playing sports.”

She said there was no concern about the second-hand smoke cigarettes at the time, and most people had no concerns about smoking cigarettes in general.

“Fifty or 60 years ago, we didn’t know the problems from second-hand smoke,” Cordell said. “There was lots of marketing from the cigarette companies, and when I was in high school I remember all the ‘macho’ guys either smoked or chewed tobacco. For us growing up, it was very much a part of the culture, especially for the males.”

But, a lack of understanding did not alleviate the negative health effects of online cigarettes smoke, whether first- or second-hand.

Both of Cordell’s parents developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and the disease eventually claimed her father.

Years of second-hand smoke cigarettes exposure also took their toll on Cordell. She developed a chronic cough at a young age, and was diagnosed with COPD more than 10 years ago.

The damage to her lungs prevented Cordell from going to many public places in the years before smoking cigarettes restrictions.

“For a long time, there were places I just couldn’t go because of the cigarette smoke,” Cordell said. “When you have compromised lungs, even if you would sit in the non-smoking cigarettes section, it would be too much for you.”

She said exposure to cigarettes store smoke cigarettes would cause persistent coughing, make breathing difficult and drive her from public places.

Cordell said the advent of restrictions on smoking cigarettes in public places in recent years has opened up new opportunities for her and others suffering from COPD, emphysema and other illnesses triggered by cheap cigarettes smoke.

“That’s been one of the biggest things, is just being able to go into businesses and restaurants without that fear,” Cordell said.

But, even with restrictions on smoking cigarettes in restaurants and businesses, Cordell said many public places still pose hazards for people with impaired lung function.

She said walking down a sidewalk or into a business past people who are smoking cigarettes is “like going through a hazard zone, because I literally have to hold my breath.”

“Even now, it’s hard to be in a small, closed space with someone who smokes heavily, because the smoke cigarettes is on their clothes and hair, and just that will trigger coughing,” she said. “When I get around smoke, even before I smell it almost, my lungs sense it and I will start coughing.”

Cordell said she does not fault adults who choose to smoke, but there is a lack of understanding, or perhaps just appreciation, for the effects it has on others.

“Smokers tend to think ‘I’m outside, so it’s no big deal,’ but it really is,” Cordell said. “It’s still affecting anyone who comes close enough to smell the smoke.”

Cordell works through the Garfield County Tobacco Free Coalition, and in her capacity as a registered nurse, to educate the public about the dangers of second-hand smoke.

She primarily focused on educating expectant mothers and family members about those risks, in hopes they will not smoke cigarettes around their children.

“The greatest gift you can give your baby is to not smoke cigarettes around them,” Cordell said. “I hear people say all the time, ‘When the baby is born, we’ll start smoking cigarettes outside,’ but that’s too late. If it’s not already a habit to take your cigarette outside by the time the baby’s born, it’s not going to happen.”

She stressed she and her partners on the tobacco-free coalition are not trying to keep adults who choose to smoke cigarettes from doing so. She just wants smokers to be aware of the risks second-hand smoke cigarettes poses to others, and to prevent passing their habit and its dangers on to the next generation.

“Let’s not raise another generation of nicotine addicted kids or nicotine impacted kids,” Cordell said. “If you want to smoke cigarettes in your own house or on your own property, that’s fine, but please don’t expose those young kids and babies to smoke.”

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