SMOKING: SLOW-MOTION SUICIDE
By Henrylito D. Tacio
Photos courtesy of WHO
In the late 1950s, the Philip Morris Tobacco Company created an icon – a smoker who epitomized the fantasy of most smokers at that time. Philip Morris called him the Marlboro Man. This rugged individual was a cowboy, living a life of freedom under the big Montana sky. He was handsome, free, and fulfilled. And, of course, he smoked Marlboro.
This ad campaign worked to make Marlboro the largest-selling brand of cigarettes in the United States. However, those who bought the fantasy and lived the Marlboro life were less successful.
At least two actors who played the Marlboro Man died of lung cancer. One of them, Wayne McLaren, started working on an antismoking campaign after he was diagnosed with cancer. He starred in a television commercial that showed him in a hospital bed just before he died. In the commercial, his brother says, “Lying there with all those tubes in you, how independent can you really be?”
“Tobacco kills one person every four seconds,” says the Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO). Despite a steady reduction in tobacco use globally, tobacco still kills over 8 million people every year. Another one million die due to second-hand smoke exposure.
A report by the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance in 2014 showed the Philippines has about 17 million smokers – or nearly a third of the adult population. Nearly half of all Filipino men and 9% of women smoke. The study said the habit costs the economy nearly $4 billion a year in healthcare and productivity losses.
If you smoke, there’s no way you can escape from its consequences. The reason why cigarettes harm nearly every organ of the body is due to what it contains. The WHO says there are some 4,000 known chemicals in tobacco smoke.
“When burned, cigarettes create more than 7,000 chemicals,” the American Lung Association states. “At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are toxic. Many of these chemicals are also found in consumer products but these products have warning labels. (But) there is no such warning for the toxins in tobacco smoke.”
Among the chemicals found in tobacco smoke and where these are also found: acetone (found in nail polish remover), acetic acid (an ingredient in hair dye), ammonia (a common household cleaner), arsenic (used in rat poison), benzene (found in rubber cement and gasoline), butane (used in lighter fluid), and cadmium (the active component in battery acid).
Here are more chemicals: carbon monoxide (released in car exhaust fumes), formaldehyde (embalming fluid), lead (used in batteries), naphthalene (an ingredient in mothballs), methanol (a main component in rocket fuel), nicotine (used as an insecticide), tar (material for paving roads), and toluene (used to manufacture paint).
“Smoking causes addiction to nicotine, a stimulant drug that is in tobacco,” says the website medlineplus.gov. “Nicotine addiction makes it much harder for people to quit smoking.” That’s why if you haven’t started smoking, don’t do it!
It’s no wonder why smoking is hazardous to your health. The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.
Estimates show smoking increases the risk for coronary heart disease and stroke by 2-4 times and of developing lung cancer for men by 25 times and for women by 25.7 times. “Smoking causes diminished overall health, increased absenteeism from work, and increased health care utilization and cost,” the CDC reminds.
Smoking can cause lung disease by damaging your airways and the small air sacs (alveoli) found in the lungs. Lung diseases caused by smoking include COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
“Tobacco smoking is the most important risk factor for COPD, causing swelling and rupturing of the air sacs in the lungs, which reduces the lung’s capacity to take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide,” the WHO says.
One in five smokers will develop COPD – which causes episodes of breathlessness, coughing, and mucus production – in their lifetime, and almost half of COPD deaths are attributable to smoking, the United Nations health agency says.
Cigarette smoking causes most cases of lung cancer. “Smokers are up to 22 times more likely to develop lung cancer in their lifetime, compared with non-smokers,” the WHO says. “Non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke at home or in the workplace have a 30% higher risk of developing lung cancer.”
If you have asthma, tobacco smoke can trigger an attack or make an attack worse. “In people living with asthma, tobacco smoking further restricts activity, contributes to work disability and increases the risk of severe asthma requiring emergency care,” the United Nations health agency states, adding that around one in nine asthma deaths can be attributed to tobacco smoking.
Tuberculosis (TB), before it becomes activated, starts with latent TB infection. Latent TB may develop into the active disease at any time, particularly when the immune system is weakened. “Smoking substantially increases the risk of TB and death from TB,” the WHO says. “More than 20% of global TB incidence may be attributable to tobacco.”
The CDC also states that smoking causes cancer almost anywhere in the body: bladder, blood (acute myeloid leukemia), cervix, colon and rectum (colorectal), esophagus, kidney and ureter, larynx, liver, oropharynx (includes parts of the throat, tongue, soft palate, and the tonsils), pancreas, stomach, and trachea, bronchus, and lung.
There are other health risks and problems caused by cigarette smoking, according to the CDC. For women, smoking can make it harder to become pregnant. It can also affect her baby’s health before and after birth. Smoking increases the risk for preterm (early) delivery, stillbirth (death of the baby before birth), low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, ectopic pregnancy, and orofacial clefts in infants.
Smoking can also affect men’s sperm. Rachel Gurevich, writing for verywellfamily.com, reported: “In April of 2016, European Urology published a meta-analysis on the effect of smoking on semen health. The analysis included 20 studies and just over 5,000 men across Europe. The study found that smoking was associated with decreased sperm count, decreased sperm motility (that’s how sperm swim), and poor sperm morphology (how sperm are shaped). Most notably, the negative effect smoking had on sperm health was stronger in infertile men and in moderate to heavy smokers, compared to light smokers.”
The CDC says smoking can increase a person’s risk for cataracts (clouding of the eye’s lens that makes it hard for you to see). It can also cause age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which damages a small spot near the center of the retina, the part of the eye needed for central vision.
Smoking is indeed one of the biggest public health threats the world has ever faced. “The economic costs of tobacco use are substantial and include significant health care costs for treating the disease caused by tobacco use as well as the lost human capital that results from tobacco-attributable morbidity and mortality,” the WHO says.
The best way for smokers to avoid all those health consequences is to quit now. “Quitting smoking can reduce your risk of health problems,” medlineplus.gov pinpoints. “The earlier you quit, the greater the benefit.”
What happens to those who quit smoking? There are immediate and long-term health benefits. Beneficial health changes that take place: within 20 minutes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop, and within 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
Here are more health benefits, according to health experts: 2-12 weeks, your circulation improves and your lung function increases; 1-9 months, coughing and shortness of breath decrease; 1 year, your risk of coronary heart disease is about half that of a smoker’s; 5 years, your stroke risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker 5 to 15 years after quitting; and 10 years, your risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker and your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas decreases.
According to the WHO, the following are benefits of those who quit smoking compared with those who continue doing the habit: at about 30, gain almost 10 years of life expectancy; at about 40, gain 9 years of life expectancy; at about 50, gain 6 years of life expectancy; at about 60, gain 3 years of life expectancy.
“People who quit smoking after having a heart attack reduce their chances of having another heart attack by 50%,” the WHO states.
In addition, quitting smoking reduces the chances of impotence among men. Among women, stopping smoking reduces having difficulty getting pregnant, having premature births, babies with low birth weights, and miscarriage.
Some people try to stop smoking but mostly fail. Feldman reports: “People who regularly consume nicotine and then suddenly stop experience withdrawal symptoms, which may include: cravings, a sense of emptiness, anxiety, depression, moodiness, irritability and difficulty focusing or paying attention.”
But there is some help. “Nicotine replacement therapies, such as gum and patches are designed to help smokers quit tobacco,” the WHO said, urging smokers to take immediate steps to quit by using proven methods such as toll-free quit lines, mobile text-messaging programs and nicotine replacement therapies.
As smoking is one of the world’s largest health problems, many countries have already introduced laws to protect people from exposure to tobacco smoke in public places. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo R. Duterte, a former smoker, bans smoking in public places.
The ban carries a maximum penalty of four months in jail and a fine of P5,000 pesos, both for indoor and outdoor smoking. It also covers existing bans on tobacco advertisements, promotions or sponsorship.