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Breaking The Habit

It’s time for the annual American Lung Association Breathe Concert, and Danny Kaleikini, along with honorary chairman Michael Chun of Kamehameha Schools and ALA Hawaii director Lorraine Leslie want to spread the message that smoking kills, and there’s help available to break the habit. The concert happens Friday evening at Hawaii Theatre, featuring a host of top local entertainers

The American Lung Association’s Breathe Concert at Hawaii Theatre Friday evening is all about everyone’s ‘right to breathe’

Leaning forward in his chair at the American Lung Association in Hawaii’s (ALAH) Iwilei office, Douglas Q.L. Yee says, “I have been absolutely astounded at the way things have changed.” Yee, first vice president at Morgan Stanley, is the Leadership Council chairman at ALAH, and he’s sitting with director Lorraine Leslie, manager of asthma education Ululani Moniz, and tobacco control manager Debbie Odo. The group is discussing the strides that smoking-ban legislation has made in recent decades.

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Tobacco control manager Debbie Odo showing "the truth statement" from the Tobacco Institute Hall of Shame. Nathalie Walker photo. nwalker@midweek.com

Yee explains that when he first joined the ALAH council, he had just finished time in the Army.

“Part of our C-ration pack out there in the field was a cigarette,” he says. “I also remember going to restaurants before, and they would ask us if we want smoking or nonsmoking.”

It didn’t really make much of a difference, though, he recalls, because even the non-smoking sections often were clouded with smoke.

“Growing up in the 1960s, everyone smoked,” Leslie says. “I grew up when you got to choose smoking or non-smoking (on airplanes), and when you were on a long flight, you just smelled like smoke and you were coughing by the time you got off that plane. I can’t imagine going back to those days.”

And thanks to help from ALA, those days are gone. By 2000, smoking bans on U.S. airlines had been enacted into law. Soon, cities and states were following suit by passing smoking bans in public places, including restaurants, bars, clubs and workplaces. Currently, 39 states have partial smoking bans. And 27 of those including Hawaii as of 2006 have comprehensive smoking bans in all enclosed public spaces.

The legislation surrounding these bans was pushed along by ALA and anti-smoking advocacy is just one of the myriad of things that the organization does to help everyone breathe a little easier.

The American Lung Association is a national organization dedicated to preventing lung disease and improving lung health in individuals and the community. It does this through education, advocacy and research, and it has programs centered around four categories: asthma, air quality, lung disease and tobacco control.

This Friday, ALAH presents its fourth annual Breathe Concert at 7:30 p.m. at Hawaii Theatre to raise awareness about lung disease, which includes lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, influenza and asthma. Leslie adds that the event is also about celebrating the right to breathe. For the celebration, ALAH has gathered a group of some of the most talented local musicians, including Al Waterson, Johnson Enos, Danny Couch and headliner Mark Yamanaka. The concert also will feature performances by Ka Hale I O Kahala Halau and Ballet Hawaii.

“Each of these artists is great in their own right,” Leslie says. “But to have them all perform on stage in the same evening, we really think that is going to be special.”

New this year, the event will kick off at 6 p.m. at The Venue with a VIP pre-party that will feature live entertainment, a meet and greet with Breathe Concert performers and food by Laverne’s Catering and Take Out.

ALA was founded in 1904 and is the oldest volunteer health agency in the country. While significant strides have been made in terms of tobacco laws, many lung healthrelated problems remain. More than 175,000 people in Hawaii have been diagnosed with lung disease. ALA reports that more than 60 percent of Americans breathe air that is harmful to their health on a daily basis because of air-quality issues. Lung cancer is the No. 1 cancer killer both locally and nationally. According to ALAH, approximately 1,200 deaths annually in Hawaii alone are linked to tobacco use. Hawaii has the second-highest rate of asthma in the country, and Native Hawaiians are disproportionately impacted. According to ALAH, 42 percent of Native Hawaiian children have been diagnosed with asthma.

ALA is perhaps most widely recognized for its extensive programming that addresses tobacco control. As one of the first organizations to recognize smoking as the nation’s greatest preventable health risk, ALA has designed various programs for tobacco cessation. The organization reaches out to schools across the island. Equipped with a number of disturbing visuals, ALAH strives to educate students about the dangers of smoking before they start. They show students, for example, a jar filled with tar which represents the amount of tar that fills your lungs from smoking a pack a day for just one year.

IALAH also shows students two sets of pigs’ lungs, which look like human lungs. One is a large, pink lung that represents the lungs of a healthy nonsmoker. The other is shrunken and blacked with tar, which represents the lungs of someone who has smoked for 10-20 years. ALAH has made it so that the lungs simulate breathing and the smoker’s lung has about half of the capacity for air compared with its healthy counterpart.

And for those who do smoke, ALAH provides tools to help them break the habit. Odo says that she finds that many people these days are looking for ways to quit, and ALAH provides support.

“We are not against smokers because our job really is to serve them,” says Odo, an ex-smoker herself. “If you are willing to set that quit date, we will help you.”

ALAH also offers educational programs for schools, students and parents that teach the basics of asthma, potential asthma triggers and what to do if you or someone else is having an asthma episode. The goal of the asthma-related programs is to help asthma suffers better manage their disease. With Hawaii’s high rate of asthma, these initiatives are particularly important.

“It really tugged at my heart when I knew how many Native Hawaiians were affected by asthma,” says Moniz. “Native Hawaii children … have twice the rate of asthma as any other ethnic group.”

To combat lung disease, ALA also supports research to treat, prevent and find cures for its various types. Locally, the organization is involved with research in pediatric respiratory health at John A. Burns School of Medicine.

ALA also works toward clean air through advocacy efforts, including defending the Clean Air Act. ALA also has worked to clean up car emissions and reduce air pollution from power plants. Nationwide, the organization continues the push to get more states to pass comprehensive smoking bans.

The Breathe Concert is ALAH’s only fundraiser, and all proceeds benefit its various programs.

Dr. Michael J. Chun, the president and headmaster of Kamehameha Schools, serves as this year’s honorary chairman. After graduating from Kamehameha Schools, Chun went on to study civil engineering at the University of Kansas, where he later earned a doctorate in environmental health engineering. He also has a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Hawaii. Before taking his current position at Kamehameha Schools in 1988, Chun worked as an engineer. He has served as the city’s chief engineer, where he oversaw water treatment and facilitated waste disposal. He also taught environmental engineering at UH and served as a water treatment consultant for various companies.

Chun also has extensive experience with ALAH. For nine years, he was a member of the ALAH council and is a past president. Plus, one of his engineering students at UH went on to design air quality programs for the organization.

“I am just happy to be a part of the event,” he says of his involvement with the Breathe Concert. He also is excited that famed local musician and longtime friend Danny Kaleikini will emcee the concert.

“I have seen firsthand what secondhand smoke can do at the Kahala where I performed,” Kaleikini says. “Sometimes the smoke was so thick it was hard to breathe.”

While Chun has never suffered from poor lung health, he’s seen the harrowing toll that asthma can have on others.

“People don’t tend to look at respiratory illness as a deadly killer,” Chun says. “But I have a cousin whose son died from an asthma attack as a young boy.”

Through their involvement with the Breath Concert, Kaleikini and Chun hope that they can help to raise awareness about the organization and the work that it does.

“When I look at the work of ALA in terms of lung cancer, asthma, antismoking and air quality, I feel that these issues are major issues touching Hawaii,” Chun says. “I believe that this is an important event because it supports an important organization that is dealing with some critical health issues. One of the things I hope it accomplishes is that it brings joy and laughter and good feelings to everybody who is there. Secondly, I also want to make sure that it provides a platform for expanding understanding of respiratory disease. As a community, there is a need for us to pay attention to respiratory disease and the impact that it has on the quality of life of our people.”

And beyond raising both program funds and awareness about lung health, Leslie and Odo add that the event also is about another crucial issue: celebrating and appreciating the right to breathe.

“Clean air should be something that is important for all of us,” Leslie says. “Once you lose your lung health capacity, it’s gone.”

“You can’t see (air), you can’t taste it, you can’t smell it,” Odo says. “But then when you can’t breathe, you realize how important it is.”

Tickets for Friday’s Breathe Concert cost $35, $55 or $135* (*includes the pre-reception at The Venue) and can be purchased at Hawaii Theatre Center at 1130 Bethel St., by phone at 528-0506 or online at hawaiitheatre.com. For more information on ALAH, visit ala-hawaii.org.