New Orleans — As Louisiana students return to classrooms this fall, the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals’ Tobacco Control Program is launching an educational effort to teach parents, caregivers and others the importance of avoiding exposure to secondhand smoke.

 The awareness campaign will include a series of radio advertisements designed to encourage listeners to think about where they light up a cigarette and how secondhand smoke can affect the people around them. In addition, the radio commercials will direct listeners to a new Web site, “Breathe Easy Bayou,” where residents can learn more about the health risks of secondhand smoke.

 In 2002 focus group discussions, Louisiana residents were only vaguely aware of the serious health consequences of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. For many focus group participants, secondhand smoke was nothing more than a “nuisance” that left unpleasant odors on clothes, in cars and in indoor environments.

 “In order for people to protect themselves and their families, they need information,” explained David W. Hood, secretary of the Department of Health and Hospitals. “We’ve discovered that many Louisiana residents lack the basic knowledge of—or have conflicting information about—the risks associated with breathing tobacco smoke. This campaign is an attempt to remedy that situation.”

 The campaign will utilize a non-confrontational, easy-going approach toward communicating the secondhand smoke message—particularly to smokers, who often are left feeling ostracized or persecuted because of their dependence on nicotine. Radio advertisements will focus on a single person, often a smoker, who discusses his or her reluctance to smoke in front of others to shield them from the health hazards of secondhand smoke.

 “We want people to understand it’s the smoke that’s the enemy, not the smoker,” Hood said. “And we want this campaign to initiate a dialogue on this issue among state residents by providing them with the knowledge they need to form an educated opinion and make healthy decisions.”

 In order to help promote that dialogue, the campaign’s Web site, “Breathe Easy Bayou” (, will include an e-mail “Tell Your Story” address that will encourage site visitors to share a personal story about secondhand smoke or offer their opinion of the issue.

Compelling contributions then will be posted to the site. In addition, the Web site will feature information customized to specific audiences affected by the issue.

“Everyone is affected by secondhand smoke,” said Sharon Howard, assistant secretary for DHH’s Office of Public Health. “But different people are affected in different ways for different reasons. For example, restaurant and bar workers confront a different level of exposure to secondhand smoke than typical office workers—and pregnant women face a uniquely compelling reason to avoid exposure to secondhand smoke. We want to provide information to every group that needs it.”

Nationwide, secondhand smoke is becoming a “hot button” issue as citizens and lawmakers recognize the public health hazards posed by exposure to this dangerous carcinogen. Secondhand smoke has been classified as a “Class A” cancer-causing agent by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the same classification given to asbestos. Exposure to secondhand smoke is known to cause lung cancer, aggravate asthma and contribute to a host of other diseases and afflictions. Currently, tobacco use is the leading cause of death in the United States.

“Once people learn the facts about secondhand smoke, it will be easier for them to make informed decisions about what can be done about it,” Howard added.

Louisiana’s secondhand smoke educational campaign is in accordance with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Best Practices for Tobacco Control,” which recommends guidelines for states to confront the deadly effects of tobacco use. In addition to providing information about secondhand smoke,  will provide information about the Louisiana Helpline, 1-800-LUNG-USA, where site visitors can go for even more information or smokers can go to help them learn how to quit using tobacco.