Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, is a progressive disease that makes it hard to breathe. COPD is also known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis. The disease can cause coughing that produces large amounts of mucus, wheezing, shortness of breath, chest tightness, and other symptoms. COPD is a major cause of disability, and is the third leading cause of death in the United States.
Cigarette smoking is the major cause of COPD. Most people who have COPD smoke or used to smoke. COPD is often preventable and treatable, so quitting smoking is the single most important thing a smoker can do to live a longer and healthier life. It also spares the lungs of those who breathe secondhand smoke.
At Whittier Street Health Center, our providers help patients with smoking cessation through referrals to QuitWorks. QuitWorks is a free stop-smoking service developed by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health and launched in 2002. Whittier’s work with QuitWorks is important because helping parents give up smoking protects their children from breathing in secondhand cigarette smoke. Even nonsmokers can have asthma attacks, respiratory infections, lung cancer, and heart disease when exposed to secondhand cigarette smoke. Pediatric asthma is a common chronic disease among Whittier’s pediatric population. Meanwhile, cardiovascular disease (heart disease) is prevalent among our adult patients. Having their environments be smoke-free is crucial to their health and wellness.
In September 2012, The City of Boston banned smoking inside public housing. Under the new non-smoking policy, each household member and their guests may not smoke inside the apartment unit or the building. Since 83% of Whittier’s patients are public housing residents, the ban has had a significant effect. Secondhand smoke seeping in from neighboring apartments can worsen problems for children with asthma and people with heart disease and other illnesses. With smoke-free homes, the people in our community can avoid smoking-related diseases and have better quality lives.