SMOKING is not for those who want to live a long and happy life. The probability that a long-term smoker will eventually be killed by tobacco is 1 in 2. The director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO) stated: “A cigarette is . . . a cleverly crafted product that delivers just the right amount of nicotine to keep its user addicted for life before killing the person.”
One reason, then, to quit smoking is that smoking tobacco endangers health and life. Smoking has been linked to more than 25 life-threatening diseases. It is, for example, a major contributor to heart attack, stroke, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, and various cancers, especially lung cancer.
Of course, a person may smoke for years before being stricken with one of these diseases. Meanwhile, smoking does not make a person more appealing to others. Advertising portrays smokers as glamorous and healthy. The reality is different. Smoking makes the breath stink and stains teeth and fingers a yellowish-brown. In men it contributes to impotence. It causes smoker’s cough and shortness of breath. Smokers are also more likely to experience premature facial wrinkling and other skin problems.
How Smoking Affects Others
Smoking hurts others. Until recent times a smoker could light up just about anywhere and expect no objection. But attitudes are changing because more people understand the dangers of breathing in smoke that drifts from the cigarettes of others. For example, a nonsmoker who is married to a smoker has a 30-percent greater risk of developing lung cancer than if he or she were married to a nonsmoker. Children who live with parents who smoke are more likely to develop pneumonia or bronchitis in the first two years of life than are children who live in homes where no one smokes.
Pregnant women who smoke endanger their unborn babies. Nicotine, carbon monoxide, and other dangerous chemicals contained in cigarette smoke enter the mother’s bloodstream and pass directly to the child in the womb. The consequences include a greater likelihood of spontaneous abortion, stillbirth, and death among newborns. Moreover, the risk of sudden infant death syndrome is three times higher for babies whose mothers smoked during pregnancy.
The Cost Is High
Another reason to quit is that smoking is expensive. A study by the World Bank estimated that the health-care costs caused directly by smoking amount to about $200 billion each year. That figure, of course, does nothing to convey the cost in suffering and pain to those who contract diseases caused by tobacco.
The direct cost of cigarettes to the individual smoker is easy to calculate. If you smoke, multiply the amount of money you spend on cigarettes in one day by 365. That will show you how much money you spend in a year. Multiply that figure by ten, and you will see how much cigarettes will cost you if you smoke for another ten years. The result may surprise you. Think about what else you could do with that much money.
Is It Safer to Switch?
The tobacco industry advertises low tar and nicotine cigarettes—promoted as light or mild cigarettes—as a way to reduce the health risks of smoking. However, those who switch to low tar and nicotine cigarettes crave the same nicotine dose as before. Consequently, smokers who switch usually compensate by smoking more cigarettes, taking deeper and more frequent puffs, or smoking more of each cigarette. Even for those who do not make changes to compensate, the health benefits are small compared with the advantages of quitting completely.
What about pipes and cigars? Though the tobacco industry has long promoted pipes and cigars as status symbols, the smoke they deliver is just as deadly as that from cigarettes. Even if smokers don’t inhale cigar or pipe smoke, they have an increased risk of developing lip, mouth, and tongue cancers.
Is smokeless tobacco safe? This comes in two different forms: snuff and chewing tobacco. Snuff is a powdered tobacco, usually sold in cans or pouches. Often, users place it inside the lower lip or cheek. Chewing tobacco is sold in long strands, usually in a pouch. As the name suggests, it is chewed, not sucked. Snuff and chewing tobacco both cause bad breath, stained teeth, cancer of the mouth and pharynx, addiction to nicotine, white sores in the mouth that can lead to cancer, peeling back of the gums, and bone loss around the teeth. Clearly, sucking or chewing tobacco is not a wise alternative to smoking it.
Benefits of Quitting
Suppose you are a long-term smoker. What happens when you quit? Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your blood pressure will drop to normal. After a week your body will be free of nicotine. After one month your coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath will begin to decrease. After five years your risk of dying from lung cancer will have dropped by 50 percent. After 15 years your risk of coronary heart disease will fall to that of a person who has never smoked at all.
Your food will taste better. Your breath, body, and clothing will smell better. You will no longer have the trouble or the expense of buying tobacco. You will have a feeling of accomplishment. If you have children, your example will reduce the likelihood that they will be smokers. You will likely live longer.Don’t feel that it is too late for you to quit; the sooner you quit, the better.
Why Quitting Is So Hard
It is difficult to quit smoking—even for those who are highly motivated. Mainly, this is because the nicotine in tobacco is a highly addictive drug. “In a ranking of the addictiveness of psycho-active drugs, nicotine was determined to be more addictive than heroin [and] cocaine,” states WHO. Unlike heroin and cocaine, nicotine does not produce dramatic evidence of intoxication, so it is easy to underestimate its power. Yet the mild sense of euphoria it produces keeps most people smoking so as to experience the feeling repeatedly. Nicotine really does alter your mood; it does soothe anxiety. However, the tension the cigarette reduces is caused in part by the craving for nicotine itself.
It is also difficult to quit smoking because smoking is a behavioral habit. Apart from being addicted to nicotine, smokers develop frequently repeated routines of lighting up and puffing. ‘It’s something to do with your hands.’ ‘It fills time,’ some may say.
A third factor that makes it difficult to quit is that tobacco is woven into everyday life. The tobacco industry spends almost six billion dollars each year on advertising campaigns that depict smokers as glamorous, active, healthy, and intelligent people. Often they are shown riding a horse, swimming, playing tennis, or engaging in another appealing activity. Movies and television programs show people smoking—and not always the villains. Tobacco is legally sold and is readily available virtually everywhere. Most of us are never far from someone who smokes. You can’t escape these influences.
Sadly, there is no pill that you can take to eliminate the desire to smoke as an aspirin might eliminate a headache. To succeed in the difficult task of quitting, a person must be motivated. Like losing weight, it requires strong commitment for a long time. The responsibility for success lies with the person who smokes.
A study in the United States showed that 1 in 4 young people who tried cigarettes eventually became addicted. This was similar to the addiction rate of those who experimented with cocaine and heroin. Though about 70 percent of adolescent smokers regret having started, few are able to quit.
What Is in Cigarette Smoke?
Cigarette smoke contains tar, consisting of over 4,000 chemicals. Of these chemicals, 43 are known to cause cancer. Among them are cyanide, benzene, wood alcohol, and acetylene (a fuel used in torches). Cigarette smoke also contains nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide, both poisonous gases. Its main active ingredient is nicotine, a highly addictive drug.
Helping a Loved One Quit
If you are a nonsmoker who knows the dangers of smoking, you likely feel frustrated when your friends and loved ones continue to smoke. What can you do to help them quit? Nagging, begging, coercion, and ridicule seldom meet with success. Neither do condescending lectures. Instead of quitting, the smoker may reach for a cigarette to ease the emotional pain these tactics may cause. So try to understand how difficult it is to quit and that for some it is much harder than it is for others.
You can’t make a person quit smoking. The inner strength and conviction to quit must come from the person who smokes. You need to find loving ways to encourage and support a desire to quit.
How can you do that? At the right time, you might express your love for the person and say that you are concerned about his or her smoking habit. Explain that you will be there to support any decision to quit. Of course, if this approach is used too often, it will lose its effectiveness and meaning.
What might you do if your loved one does decide to quit? Keep in mind that he or she may have withdrawal symptoms, including irritability and depression. Headaches and difficulty in sleeping might be problems too. Remind your loved one that these symptoms are only temporary and are signs that the body is adjusting to a new and healthy equilibrium. Be cheerful and positive. Express how happy you are that he or she is quitting. Throughout the withdrawal period, help your loved one avoid stressful situations that could lead to a relapse.
What if there is a relapse? Try not to overreact. Be compassionate. View the situation as a learning experience for both of you, making it more likely that the next attempt will be a success.