Ellie describes herself as 5 feet tall with a 10-foot personality. She enjoys playing the guitar and has always liked to sing. Ellie also is an active member of the LGBT communities. She was diagnosed with asthma in her mid-thirties. Although she never smoked cigarettes, her parents did, and she was a bartender at a bar that allowed smoking. Ellie loved her job. But in 1990, she started having asthma attacks. At first she didn’t know what was happening. “I had trouble breathing. I was wheezing. It was terrifying!”
After several hospital visits and with the help of her doctor, Ellie realized the asthma attacks were triggered by the people smoking at the bar where she worked. She was forced to choose between her health and staying at the job. For Ellie, the choice was clear. She quit her job. Even though she never smoked, she realized the damage to her health was caused by breathing the secondhand smoke from people smoking around her. “I loved what I did. I loved the people where I worked. But every time someone asked, ‘Can I have change for cigarettes?’ I knew I was going to be breathing in more of that smoke. And when I went home each night, I was afraid that I was going to wake up in the middle of the night not being able to breathe.”
Ellie has vivid memories of her parents smoking cigarettes around her throughout her childhood. “I grew up in a household where both of my parents smoked, and I didn’t like it. I didn’t like the smell of it. I remember going on trips cramped up in the car with the windows closed. It was filled with smoke. I would feel queasy and sick,” she recalls.
Ellie was in her twenties when she started playing the guitar and singing for friends. Even though it’s a hobby, she hesitates to sing in public because just one person smoking near her could trigger an asthma attack. “Worrying that someone’s smoking could trigger an attack limits where I can go and what I can do,” she says.
Today, Ellie lives with her partner and works in a smoke-free environment. She is very comfortable asking people not to smoke around her, whether they are friends, family members, or strangers. Even though Ellie feels so much better being away from secondhand smoke, she still worries that at any moment she might encounter someone who smokes, which could trigger another asthma attack. She is also sad she had to leave a job she loved. Ellie is emphatic in saying, “Everyone deserves to work in a smoke-free workplace.”
Ellie, 57, Florida; had asthma attack triggered by secondhand smoke at 35