FORT WALTON BEACH — The Florida Department of Health’s Tobacco Free Florida program and the Florida Department of Health in Okaloosa County (DOH-Okaloosa) are launching a new initiative, Secondhand Smoke Exposed, as part of the eighth annual Tobacco Free Florida Week, taking place May 8-14, to educate Okaloosa County residents about the dangers of secondhand smoke.

This year’s theme, Secondhand Smoke Exposed, focuses on dispelling the common myth that secondhand smoke is harmless. A report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services stated that breathing even small amounts of secondhand smoke can be dangerous.

In observance of Tobacco Free Florida Week, Students Working Against Tobacco members from Crestview High School will teach Bob Sikes Elementary fifth graders about the dangers of secondhand smoke.  DOH-Okaloosa staff members will also attend a health fair for employees of the City of Fort Walton Beach and will educate attendees about the dangers of tobacco.  

“Many people are unaware of how dangerous secondhand smoke exposure can be,” stated Carrie Ziegler, DOH-Okaloosa assistant director. “DOH-Okaloosa and its dedicated community partners are committed to educating the public about the dangers secondhand smoke and encourage residents to join the fight against tobacco and help make Okaloosa County a healthier place to live, learn, work, and play.”

 DOH-Okaloosa supports local tobacco-related interventions, including raising public awareness about subject areas related to secondhand smoke. From guiding a multi-unit housing property through the process of going smoke-free, to presenting the benefits of a tobacco free college campus, representatives in Okaloosa County offer various services.

To aid in reducing secondhand smoke exposure to pets, DOH-Okaloosa has recently started working with the Panhandle Animal Welfare Society in Okaloosa County to implement a 100 percent tobacco free policy for their grounds.

Despite the growing trend of smoke-free policies and the substantial decrease of smokers in the state, many of Okaloosa County’s most vulnerable are still involuntarily affected by secondhand smoke, which has hundreds of toxic chemicals including about 70 that are known to cause cancer, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

May is also Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month. The  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stated in a report that tobacco smoke is one of the most common asthma triggers.

If you smoke, the best thing you can do to protect your loved ones is to quit. Floridians who want to quit smoking are encouraged to use Tobacco Free Florida’s free and proven-effective services. More information is available at tobaccofreeflorida.com.

This article was updated May 10, 2016 to fix a typing error in the term "Health and Human Services" in the second paragraph and remove a double headline.