18-year-old Jamason has asthma. He never really understood the dangers of secondhand smoke until it triggered an asthma attack that he said almost killed him. "I couldn't get air into my lungs. I was so scared. I couldn't breathe!" he says. Jamason has never smoked cigarettes. Even when friends tried to talk him into it, he would reply, "It's just not cool to smoke."
As an infant, Jamason was diagnosed with asthma that seemed manageable until his teens. His mother Sherri, who is a nurse, started noticing that when he hung out with friends who smoked, Jamason would wheeze and have trouble breathing.
His worst attack occurred when he was 16 years old. It was at a fast food restaurant where he worked. He was sweeping close to some coworkers who were smoking. "My chest got really tight," says Jamason. "I was just trying to breathe, trying to get air in my lungs. I couldn't bear it." Jamason called his mother, frantic for help. She found him struggling to breathe. Sherri remembers that day all too well. "When I arrived, he was gasping and he told me he couldn't get air. I was very scared," she says. "I just did whatever I could to save my child, because I know asthma attacks can be deadly." She drove Jamason to the hospital, where he stayed for 4 days. "When secondhand smoke triggers your asthma, you don't know how severe the asthma attack is going to be," says Sherri.
Throughout his days at the hospital, Jamason had breathing treatments every 2 to 4 hours. When he was breathing comfortably again, he felt relieved but was afraid to leave the hospital. "I wanted to go home," he says, "but, then again, I didn't, because I knew there was no smoking inside the hospital. But outside, in the real world, people smoke. I was afraid. I didn't want to have to go through that again."
Jamason worries that at any time and anywhere, someone's cigarette smoke could trigger another asthma attack. It's a constant fear. Today, Jamason feels comfortable asking people not to smoke around him, and he shares with them the dangers of secondhand smoke. "Secondhand smoke can trigger severe asthma attacks in people of all ages," he says. For Jamason, it's a matter of life and death. He explains that he parted ways with one friend who wouldn't stop smoking around him. "I told him we just couldn't be friends anymore."
After high school, Jamason plans to go to college. He was excited to hear that there are smoke-free campuses. "Oh, wow; I didn't know that. I could go to college without worrying about having an asthma attack from breathing other people's smoke. That's very appealing!"
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- CDC/Office on Smoking and Health
4770 Buford Highway
Atlanta, Georgia 30341-3717