Heartfelt with Dr Melissa Walton-ShirleyView all posts »
Casting call for cardiologists and citizens: Smoke-free ordinance "play" coming to a "theater" near youFeb 1, 2011 09:45 EST
Theme: This piece is a tragicomedy. Townspeople both young and old are dying of smoke exposure. A group of concerned citizens has awakened their city council from their slumber on the topic of a public smoking ban. This one-act play involves all of the personalities and viewpoints on the subject. There are light-hearted moments as well as poignant statements that stir today's society.
Setting: City hall-–preferably two years before the next election
Bring three head shots: One for the local newspaper for a positive interview, one for the opposing paper with headlines screaming antipatriotism, and a third headshot to be used for a dartboard at the local "good ole boys" club. Wear comfortable clothing and expect to spend two hours debating the topic. The process will be repeated at the second reading two weeks later, and you are expected at both sessions.
City commission characters:
Mayor Jane: Female late 50s. Firmly confident in her support after two years of discussions backed by local polls currently at 70/30 in favor of an ordinance. She has her eye on loftier political goals and will be successful.
Commissioner Smith: A friendly kind male in his late 40s. He has a relative with asthma who "gets it" and is fully supportive. He smiles often except when he talks about his family member who has severe lung problems.
Commissioner Jackson: Male 70s. Smoked all his life. No one is aware he was discharged from the hospital this morning for exacerbation of COPD. Under the mistaken impression that businesses suffer if their "particulate matter counts" are low. Firmly against.
Commissioner Jones: Male late 60s. His best friend runs the bingo hall that regularly donates to charity. Wrongly convinced that the bingo hall will fold and all charities will go lacking if cigarette smoking is banned in public buildings. He is firmly "against" and unaware that the millions in healthcare expenditures to treat preventable illnesses could supply his charities for a millennium.
Commissioner Washington: Female early 50s, health-minded, intelligent, and a real community activist. The depths of inconsideration for public safety revealed at this meeting will be a shocking eye opener for her. Firmly in support.
Commissioner Bloke: Male, 50s. A "business-owner's-right-to-choose" person. Serving rotten food, using asbestos, or promoting a smoke-filled environment are all "A–okay as long as the "business owner chooses." Ironically expresses great concern about a shrub that has overgrown a local highway as a safety issue. He wants it cut down immediately.
City Commissioner Tremble: Has had numerous visits from both ordinance supporters and supporters of "business-owners'-rights" folks. He's not sure which way he'll vote. He just wants to be reelected.
Lay public characters:
Team of cardiologists, pulmonologists, family doctors, and pediatricians: These parts usually not filled because they are far "too busy" to make the council meetings. They figure they do their part by getting up nights and treating folks with first- and secondhand smoke exposure. We welcome any of these individuals to audition and promise a very worthwhile endeavor. We know you would be great!
Citizen Johnson: Speaks first. Male, 50s. Mom was a nonsmoker who passed away of lung cancer after working in a smoke-filled restaurant. Has spent two years campaigning for clean air. He speaks with conviction and is well received only by supporting council members. The opposing council members appear disinterested, yawn, and even grimace.
Citizen McCracken: Large man, around 6 ft 7 in. A veteran, 50s, who fought for the right to breathe smoke anywhere, even on a sick child. Tries to intimidate, insists on more time to speak than the three minutes given to everyone else. Nearly gets escorted out of the meeting by security. Turns off everyone who knows he's not the typical respectable veteran who deserves our appreciation of their great sacrifice.
Citizen Slagger: Female around 70 years of age. Coughs incessantly. Her voice has a sandpaper quality and her face is deeply etched by hours of smoking and drinking coffee at the local diner. She is fighting to preserve her recreation at the expense of the health of servers and other patrons.
Doctor Voist: Runs in a little late with no lunch or supper to speak on the ills of secondhand smoke exposure. Looks around the room and wonders where all the pediatricians, family doctors, and cardiologists are who should have ALL been on the front row supporting him. He is undeterred and staunch in his convictions.
Citizen Belton: Audience member who says nothing in public but jumps the lone physician as he exits the council chambers. He threatens bodily harm and taunts him all the way to his car for trying to save lives and healthcare dollars. Actually says "I ought to whip your @$$ all over this county" as the doctor goes out the door. (This is an actual quote from a meeting in Barren County, Kentucky.)
Citizen Danforth: A nonsmoker who believes we should just post a sign and let folks choose where to eat or work, ignoring the fact that this does not protect the employees and runs up the cost of healthcare.
Citizen Blithering: Disheveled in appearance. Believes alcohol is worse than smoking and speaks only long enough to insist we "outlaw booze and fat people first."
Mysterious citizen character: Carries a briefcase and wears a cheap suit. No one knows who he is or what he does but he says he works for an "institute" for "public policy solutions." He is "bought and paid for" by the tobacco industry. He has already cast the opposition behind the scenes and can count on ignorance and inconsideration to execute his agenda. Must have a sweaty upper lip and must smile even when there is nothing to smile about.
Extras: Openings for camera crew for television stations and local radio personalities available. Moms of kids with asthma who are not public speakers but willing to show up for support also needed. Local tobacco-coalition members wearing smoke-free T-shirts who have plans A, B, and C through Z to make certain this ordinance passes, if not now, later, are also welcome. Smokers are needed who groan and moan when ordinance supporters make logical and educated points but who must shake their heads "yes" on cue when "business-owners'-right-to-choose" people speak (but you'll have to step outside to smoke).
This traveling play has rolled through 30 states and hundreds of US cities. It is scheduled to play in 20 other states where thousands of workers and patrons are still suffering and dying of smoke exposure. Although it's always the same script with the same cast of characters, it's lively, entertaining, and well worth seeing. Better yet, why not show up and try out? If smoke-free legislation passes in your community, it will save more lives in a few years than in an entire lifetime of our medical practices. Pick up the phone and actively seek a roll in the next smoke-free ordinance "play" coming to a "theater" near you. As a physician and a citizen, it could be your best role yet.