At the risk of offending good friends and a portion of the IAFC membership, I feel compelled to bring up a sensitive subject: smoking.
I'm not talking about cigarette smoking. I think the case has been made that it's a bad thing and many, many fire departments have policies that prohibit the use of cigarettes. In society in general, cigarettes are looked at as a bad thing; the taxes are referred to as sin taxes and smoking is allowed in fewer and fewer places.
No, I'm not talking about cigarettes; I want to discuss cigars.
Cigar smoking is popular in the North America where a cigar culture is supported by cigar magazines, shops, bars and clubs. Many cigar smokers think of themselves as connoisseurs, much like wine experts. In this cigar culture, cigars are viewed as a sign of status, success, good taste and refinement. These perceptions are fueled by the efforts of the tobacco industry to glamorize cigars and the willingness of celebrities and athletes to be paid and photographed smoking cigars.
So what does cigar smoking have to do with the fire service and why am I using this space to talk about it?
Because firefighter health and safety is one of the priority issues I want to focus attention on this year and it seems that everywhere I go—at every fire service conference or meeting I attend—the very same people who wouldn't be caught dead smoking a cigarette are regularly and frequently smoking cigars, as if they're somehow different.
As fire chiefs, few of us would advocate our departments members smoke cigarettes, yet we have no hesitation in lighting up cigars in front of them or sharing cigars with them.
Are cigars dangerous? The science says absolutely yes! Perhaps in different ways than cigarettes, but dangerous anyway.
Cigar smoke, like cigarette smoke, contains toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that are harmful to both smokers and the nonsmokers around them. There's no safe tobacco smoke or safe level of exposure—for the smoker or for those friends, family or colleagues who share the smoke.
Cigar smoking causes cancers of the lip, tongue, mouth and throat and cancers of the larynx, esophagus and lung. Think you're safe because you don't inhale when you smoke a cigar? Even if you don't inhale, you still directly expose your lips, mouth, tongue, throat and larynx to tobacco smoke and its toxic and cancer-causing chemicals.
In fact, in many ways, cigar smoke is more toxic than cigarette smoke—to you and those around you.
I could go on, but I won't. The bottom line is that cigar smoking is bad for our health—as bad as cigarettes.
As fire service leaders, I ask you to consider the example you're setting when you engage in a practice that's clearly bad for your health and directly linked to what we're coming to understand is the single biggest health threat to firefighters: cancer. Not only are we setting a bad example for the rest of the fire service; we're often subjecting them (and our families) to second-hand smoke as we enjoy our personal experience with the cigar culture.
We don't hesitate to call out those in the fire service who engage in risky or unsafe fireground tactics. We don't let folks take their turnout gear home or carry it in their cars where off-gassing might expose them or family members to toxins.
Yet we let them engage in this practice that is just as dangerous.
Here's a practice that directly impacts our health in a negative way. And here's something we have direct, 100% control over. Please consider disengaging from the cigar culture—for your own sake, for the health of those who look to you as a role model and for the safety of your family and other loved ones who breathe your second-hand smoke.
Let's lead on this issue as we do on so many others.
Chief William R. Metcalf, EFO, CFO
President and Chairman of the Board