Back in the 1990’s when many more people smoked and smoking was allowed in workplaces, restaurants and bars, I worked as an insurance broker in an office where almost half the 70 or so employees smoked. Initially this didn’t concern me, I lived near the beach, got lots of exercise and kept a reasonably good diet. And when the CEO and every manager smokes, what could you do anyway? Well, I developed a persistent cough and extreme fatigue. My doctor figured out that it was the secondhand smoke that was creating the issue and told me I needed a smokefree environment. The office refused to do anything about the issue. There were several large balconies, that had lunch tables where people could easily have gone outside to smoke, but this was just much trouble for them. I looked to move to another agency but was threatened with a lawsuit if I moved my clients with me. Clients that I had brought to the firm without their assistance.
Not being able to work in the office without getting sick and not being able to move to another firm, I sought other options. I spent some time in the UCLA Law Library reviewing worker’s compensation law and and any case law people might have used to clear the air in their workplace. I found an article positing that assault and battery could be used as a defense against secondhand smoke. I sought an attorney to take the case and eventually found someone who was interested. I also filed a claim for worker’s compensation. My hope was that if the case could get national attention that insurance companies would surcharge companies that allowed smoking.. As my bulk of my book of business was slated to renew in April through July and I didn’t want to promise service to clients if I was going to leave shortly thereafter, so in March, I went out on disability so my clients could find a new broker if they wished. My firm would find out if they really “owned” those clients.
Leaving a job that pays well for a small disability check, when you are sick and trying to do something no one else has done before, publicly, can be very lonely and definitely scary. You’re writing checks to attorneys and for depositions while being followed and your activities monitored. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to Esther Schiller who had just won a worker’s compensation settlement and we became involved in helping to pass LA’s smokefree workplace and restaurant law in 1994. We also spoke to the LA Airport Board of Commissioners about making LAX non smoking which they did almost immediately. That became the template for other airports across the country to become non smoking.
People were still being affected by secondhand smoke where they worked and had no one to turn to to listen and understand what they were going through. At the time many people could not believe that secondhand smoke could a fly, much less a human and that no one had any business telling another person not to smoke. So we created what was at first an informal organization to provide a place for people to be heard and to learn to advocate for themselves. We called it Smokefree Air For Everyone (SAFE). Once California passed its smokefree workplace law which included restaurants and later, bars, we received a grant to educate bars about the new law.
As restaurants and bars were cleared of secondhand smoke, Esther had the foresight to realize that people were being affected in apartments and condos where the smoke could drift from unit to unit. For the last 20 years SAFE has been the pioneering force in leading the way to create smokefree multi unit housing. People from all walks of life and backgrounds are affected by this: from the person in Section 8 housing who cannot afford to move and may not even have an email or internet, to the person who bought into an expensive condo and now is upside down or who doesn’t see why they should have to move to accommodate someone else’s smoking (they shouldn’t).
It is our mission that people are able to live a life free of exposure to secondhand smoke.
If you would like to help clear the air of secondhand smoke, so we can all enjoy breathing more freely, we would greatly appreciate a donation in any amount.