October 21, 2001 11:00 pm

Ear infections. Asthma attacks. Bronchitis and pneumonia. Wheezing and coughing spells. Behavioral and cognitive problems. No, we are not describing the victim of an anthrax attack. This enemy is closer to home. Its secondhand smoke and its effect on children.

Many children are involuntary victims of secondhand smoke, which comes from the burning ends of cigarettes, cigars and pipes and also through the exhalations of smokers. The consequences can include missing days of school and being less well prepared to deal with the challenges of the future. These children also have higher health bills and less of the vigor and vim we associate with the carefree years of youth.

Is it possible for parents to educate themselves on the harmful effects of secondhand smoke? Could parents sign a bill of rights-like document vowing to smoke outside? Is it possible to put the greater good of the family over the individual rights of the smoker? What lessons can be learned? Whats to be done?

A lot of parents teach character development helping a child know right from wrong. But parents also need to set a good example, showing that they know how to make the right choices to protect childrens health. And making the right choice is a matter of fairness, since a child is defenseless in the matter.

The answer is not as simple as a slogan on a button, but it is almost that simple. Parents should sacrifice a little, take their smoke outside to protect their children. Some 70 percent of parents surveyed by the Consumer Federation of America said they would do just that.

But saying it and doing it are two different things. The smoking parent can pay now with some self-sacrifice, or pay later in higher health bills and a less vigorous child. Its your choice. Taking just a few steps out the door before lighting up could save a boatload of trouble for children. Smoking parents should have the gumption to meet this challenge.

Demand the best

Some Associated Press stories dont make it into The Observer due to our space limitations and the sheer volume coming over the wire. But some deserve to be put into the spotlight. An example is Aberdeen High School English teacher David McKay, who was recently honored as Washington Teacher of the Year. What makes McKay special is he demands the best.

Too often, anymore, workers, bosses and political leaders take the easy way out. But as the old saying goes, the easy way is not usually the right way. McKay instills in his students a sense of community and the knowledge that in increments they can make positive changes, if they just stay alert to opportunities to learn and to build their communities. A more specific example is his approach to senior projects, where students not only identify a local problem but also research it and propose a solution. Some of those solutions have been put to work in making Aberdeen a better place to live.