Citizens for Clean Air and Clean Lungs

Personal War Against Tobacco
The story of second-hand smoke is not only a tole of scientists, tobacco companies, and politicians. It is also the tragedy of women like Norma Broin and Carol Ann Coy - nonsmokers who doctors believe contracted cancer from exposure to second-hand smoke.

Broin grew up in Utah, where there is less incidence of cancer than most other places in the United States. She did not drink or smoke, and was healthy and trim.

In 1976 she went to work as a flight attendant - and from her first day on the job, she began to breathe a substantial amount of second-hand smoke. "The air in those cabins was filled with cigarettes smoke," Broin says today. She began to get headaches, and developed chronic bronchitis and breathing problems.

"You came away with a runny nose, stinging red and watery eyes every day," she says. "We all hated that part of the job, but we lived with it."

But after more than 13 years in the air - inhaling what scientists now say was the equivalent of half a pack or more per day - Broin began to feel sharp chest pains and a tingling down her left arm. She went to see a doctor, who found a dark spot on her left lung.

It was cancer, a type seen most often in cases involving second-hand smoke. "I don't have any doubt that her lung cancer was caused by the smoke in the cabins," says one of Broin's doctors, David M. Burns, M.D., a professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at the University of California at San Diego, who is also a nationally recognized expert on passive smoke.

Broin had part of her left lung removed, and has so far been among the most fortunate of lung cancer victims: Almost 90% of those who contract the disease die soon after it is detected; she is still surviving seven years later and her prognosis is good.

Coy was not so fortunate. A flight attendant for 20 years, she was 41 and a new mother when doctors found a spot on her right lung in 1989. Despite surgery and intensive chemotherapy, Coy died in 1991. Her son, Christopher, who turns 8 this month, is being raised by her husband.

Today, Broin, now 41 and the mother of two, is fighting the tobacco companies directly. She organized roughly 60,000 flight attendants who have filed a class action lawsuit against all the major tobacco companies for damages to their health. This is the first class action suit filed against the companies. Preliminary motions are currently under way in Miami, Fl; the case is expected to go to trial next spring.

Adapted from GOOD HOUSEKEEPING, (November 1996) "A Personal War Against Tobacco", P.J.H., p. 173.

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