Dr Vivian Oputa
Smoking is a major risk factor for many health problems. Some of these problems are life threatening.
Smoking is a risk factor for a good number of forms of Cancer which is attributed to the tar contained in cigarettes. Other harmful and carcinogenic substances in cigarettes include formaldehyde, benzene and cadmium. The claim that low tar, light and mild cigarettes are not as dangerous is absolutely false. They carry just as much a risk as regular cigarettes.
Smoking is known to be the biggest avoidable risk factor for cancer. It causes 9 out of 10 cases of Lung cancer and is a risk factor for cancers of the mouth, throat, oesophagus, stomach, kidney, bladder and cervix. It is also linked to some forms of Leukaemia.
Lung cancer is directly related to the number of cigarettes smoked and the duration of the habit. The cancer risk is reduced once smoking is stopped regardless of the age of the individual. For instance, the risk of lung cancer is reduced by half after 10 years of cessation and this gets better the longer smoking is avoided. Individuals who stop smoking before age 35years have a life expectancy similar to that of their non-smoking peers.
Carbon monoxide and Nicotine are the most important substances in tobacco that affect the Heart.Â Nicotine stimulates adrenalin production which makes the heart beat faster and raises the blood pressure. Carbon monoxide joins onto the red pigment in blood called haemoglobin reducing its oxygen carrying capacity which adversely affects all tissues in the body.
This reduced oxygen delivery, affects the skin negatively by encouraging the development of wrinkles and a dull lifeless complexion. Smokers usually have lines around their lips from repeated puckering when inhaling and in addition, the rate at which the skin sags and wrinkles by the break down of collagen and elastin is accelerated by this habit.
Each time a cigarette is smoked, chemicals are released into your body that make the blood vessels â€œstickyâ€ encouraging fatty deposit build up (atheroma) in the arteries called atherosclerosis. This may progress to clot formation which may in turn lead to angina and a sudden heart attack. As a matter of fact, Smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to have a Heart attack. Fortunately, this risk is cut in half five years after quitting and after 10 years falls to the same level as someone who has never smoked.
Cigarette smoking is a very important cause of disease of the leg arteries which leads to pain when walking (Intermittent Claudication). The condition is rarely seen in non-smokers and may lead to Amputation of the leg.
Smokers are 3 times more likely to suffer a Stroke and if there is associated high blood pressure, are 20 times more likely than non-smokers with normal blood pressure. Smoking narrows the arteries and leads to high blood pressure both of which are major risk factors for stroke.
Smoking is the most common cause of COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease). COPD describes a group of conditions such as Emphysema and Chronic Bronchitis. In these conditions, the airways of the lungs are narrowed so breathing becomes difficult. There is no cure but symptoms can be alleviated.
Passive Smoking or involuntary smoking occurs when non-smokers inhale other peoples smoke and it is detrimental to the health of non-smokers. Smokers should realise that in addition to causing themselves harm, others may suffer as a result. Immediate effects on others include coughing, headaches, nausea, sore throat and eye irritation. Individuals are also at risk of developing smoking-related diseases such as cancer, heart disease and stroke.
Children exposed to smoke have a greater incidence of chest infections and asthma is worsened in those afflicted. Smoking during pregnancy increases the chances of still birth, low birth weight as well as early death. Smoking in the same room as an infant may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) also known as cot death. Children of mothers who smoke during pregnancy are likely to have stunted physical and mental development up to the age of 11 years.
On the average Women have a lower risk of developing heart disease than men but smoking will seriously increase their chances of developing it. Women who take oral contraceptive pills which already have a slight risk of developing stroke or heart disease increase the risk even more if they smoke as well. Osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) is also associated with smoking.
Smokers are more likely to develop a condition known as Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) which may lead to Blindness. The macula is an area of the retina at the back of the eye important for central vision and distinguishing colours.
When to Stop Smoking
If you are still healthy it is very important to stop before you get a smoking-related illness. It is even more important to stop if you are Overweight, donâ€™t Exercise or if Heart disease runs in your family. If you have just had a heart attack, it is in your interest to stop. This gives a very good motive to stop.
How to Stop Smoking
Some people find it easy to stop while others find it very difficult. The important thing is to plan in advance to stick to the decision.
The main stages in giving up smoking are
1. Preparing to stop
2. Setting a date in advance
3. Giving up smoking on that date
4. Sticking to the decision
Stopping like this after a period of preparation is the best way as it has been seen that people who stop gradually donâ€™t often succeed.
People who are really addicted to Nicotine may find it hard to do without a cigarette in the mouth or hand. In this situation, Nicotine replacement may be helpful. This is done by taking nicotine through a safe method for a number of weeks to reduce cravings while you get used to not smoking. Commonly used are nicotine patches and chewing gum.
Apart from the devastating health problems associated with smoking, why would anyone want to go around with Bad Breath and Dull Sallow Skin?
Smoking can accelerate the normal aging process of your skin, contributing to wrinkles. These skin changes may occur after only 10 years of smoking and are irreversible.
How does smoking lead to wrinkles? Smoking causes narrowing of the blood vessels in the outermost layers of your skin. This impairs blood flow to your skin, depleting it of oxygen and important nutrients, such as vitamin A. Smoking also damages collagen and elastin â€” fibers that give your skin its strength and elasticity. As a result, skin begins to sag and wrinkle prematurely.
In addition, repeated exposure to the heat from burning cigarettes and the facial expressions you make when smoking â€” such as pursing your lips when inhaling and squinting your eyes to keep out smoke â€” may contribute to wrinkles.