Smoking: a deadly habit

Drugs

Why should there be an article on smoking in an issue on drug rehabilitation? Surely, smoking is a pleasant social habit! Advertisements for smoking lead us to believe that it helps us to feel in control of our lives, it helps us to relax and makes us attractive to the opposite sex!

Eight years off your life

Well, smoking is apparently the most dangerous habit we can have. Nothing else that we choose to do in our lives is as dangerous to our health. Smoking kills one in four people and disables many more. On average, smoking reduces life expectancy by eight years.

The WHO says that about 3 million people are dying each year from diseases caused by smoking tobacco. The harmful effects of smoking take many years to develop. There is no immediate effect on health. Medical experts say that it takes 25 years of increased smoking within a country for the dramatic effects to show on the country’s death rate. In developing countries 40–60% of men smoke and 2–10% of women. In the industrialised countries fewer men now smoke (30–40%) and more women – especially young women – (20–40%).

Women who smoke, face greater health risks than men. As well as cancer and heart disease, they reduce their ability to have children and are more likely to have an abnormal baby. The children of mothers who smoke are shorter, slower to learn, and more likely to suffer from chest infections.

They are also more likely to smoke, themselves.

Poison

Cigarettes contain tar and nicotine which are poisons. Nicotine makes your heart beat faster, so just after smoking a cigarette you have extra energy. However, it also narrows the blood vessels, causing heart disease later in life.

Tar can cause cancer – usually cancer of the lungs. It’s also the cause of ‘smoker’s cough’. The tar in cigarettes sticks to the inside of the lungs, trapping dirt and bacteria. The lungs then begin to become irritated and inflamed and ‘smoker’s cough’ results. The lungs become damaged, so it becomes much easier to catch pneumonia and bronchitis.

Passive smoking

Nothing is more irritating to nonsmokers (especially if they have struggled to give up smoking, themselves) than passive smoking. This is when other people are forced to breathe in cigarette fumes from smokers when sharing the same bus, train, office or workplace. Passive smoking is now known to damage the health of non-smokers – especially if they regularly breathe in other people’s smoke. About 40 countries around the world have so far banned smoking in the workplace. Others are preparing to do the same.

Nicotine addicts

Why are so many people continuing to smoke? Why are so many addicted to this habit? Huge numbers of people see smoking as a social habit, not realising that, in fact, they are addicted to nicotine – the drug contained in tobacco. Young people smoke because it makes them feel grown up or because their friends smoke. The sale of cigarettes brings in huge income for manufacturers. Tobacco is a major export crop – the eighth largest in the world in terms of agricultural exports. However, most developing countries spend far more on importing tobacco products than is earned in exporting the raw leaves.

In some industrialised countries pressure from health groups has resulted in banning all cigarette advertisements and the sale of cigarettes with high tar and nicotine content. Sadly, this often means that much more pressure for advertisements and sales of higher risk cigarettes is put on other countries, where governments may welcome the extra bonuses promised by tobacco companies, ignoring the long-term effects on their nations’ health. Cigarette sales in developing countries are now growing three times faster than in other countries.

What the ads don't say

The advertisements fail to show people dying with lung cancer in hospital beds. They fail to tell you about the damage to children’s health, as well as to the smoker’s health. They fail to say how unattractive the smell of stale cigarette smoke is for hair and clothes. They fail to mention that smoking leaves athletes short of breath (even though many sporting events are sponsored by tobacco companies).

The good news is that stopping smoking at any age, improves life expectancy. How many people do you know who smoke? Are you and your friends aware of the dangers to health in later life? Do what you can to pass on the message…

by Isabel Carter