My name is Mitchell Lirtzman. I have been a cardiothoracic surgeon for over 30 years, most of which have been spent operating on the consequences of tobacco abuse. I strongly agree with New Orleans City Councilwoman LaToya Cantrell’s ordinance proposal and support a 100 percent smoke-free New Orleans. As a member of the Louisiana Committee for Advocacy of the American Heart Association, I stand with the majority of the population who also believe that all workplaces should be smoke-free.

My specialty involves operating on countless patients with lung cancer, esophageal cancer, COPD, heart disease and limb-threatening vascular disease. Very few of these patients were nonsmokers. I have seen far too many die a painful death at the hands of these nearly preventable diseases.

James Gill seems to imply that the facts concerning the harmful effects of secondhand smoke to be “junk science” when he says “If secondhand smoke is the hazard it is alleged to be ...”

The science is well-documented. A study done years ago on nonsmoking bartenders placed in smoking environments showed a marked decrease in lung function just by secondhand exposure alone. Service industry employees and musicians breathe 300 to 600 percent more secondhand smoke than any other type of employee. In fact, many have similar illnesses that one-pack-per-day smokers will develop.

Additionally, Gill states, “We are constantly being told that thousands die from secondhand smoke every year, but not one of them has ever been named.” If one understands the scientific method, one will know that these studies involve the statistics of thousands of patients, studied over many years.

A friend of my wife, a nonsmoker, died of lung cancer associated with secondhand smoke because her husbands all smoked. That’s a direct reference for you.

I do remember the name of the first man I ever saw die of emphysema. At the Hines VA in 1974, Mr. E.G. was slowly turning blue until he suffocated while awake. Or perhaps the young man I recently operated on for advanced lung cancer, a two-pack-per-day smoker. Yes, these are/were smokers, but the effects of secondhand smoke are just as dangerous.

While to smoke or not is a personal choice, no one has “the right” or the “free choice” to actively harm another person against their will. That is secondhand smoke.

People are concerned about asbestos exposure and the small risk of developing mesothelioma, a rare cancer of the lining of the chest cavity. There should be more intense and widespread outrage for the more obvious and commonplace health risk like tobacco smoke, which is a real, proven and common health hazard affecting millions of Americans every day.

I was fortunate to have participated in advocating for passage of the 2007 tobacco control legislation. Secondhand smoke exposure is a clear issue of public health, and our municipal leaders are elected to protect the health and welfare of all whom they serve. I’m hopeful that our leaders will join those of us concerned for the health and well-being of New Orleanians and all the citizens of Louisiana.

Mitchell Lirtzman

chief of surgery, Regional Medical Center of Acadiana