443,000 die as a result of tobacco use every year and we hear not even a whimper from thought leaders, politicians or even the public. And…we just accept the fact that our government makes billions of dollars in tax revenue on products that do not offer a single benefit but can kill or seriously injure those who use it
We almost totally ignore the fact that nearly 20 million (18,800,000) Americans have died as a result of tobacco products since the first warnings were put on cigarette packs in 1966. That is equivalent to wiping out the entire New York City metropolitan area and then some.
Let me take the scenario a step farther. The Airbus A380-800 is the biggest airplane in the sky. It can carry 555 people, maybe more depending on how the seats are configured. What would you think, how would you react if two of these monstrous planes crashed every day, year after year after year? I imagine the public outrage would be monumental. Certainly the planes would be grounded wouldn’t they?
“But wait,” as the commercial says, “There’s more.” What if these disasters were totally preventable? What if the planes were crashing because of a faulty switch that everyone knew about but ignored — and the planes just kept on crashing killing 438,000 Americans a year — year after year. Would there be outrage? Would congress act? Would there be demonstrations in the streets? Count on it!
Why then is there no public outrage, no congressional investigation, and no mass media attention to that same number of people dying from totally preventable diseases caused by Cigarette smoke or other uses of tobacco products?
Are football players, cheerleaders and boxers lives important? Of course they are but how can we ignore nearly a half million deaths a year? How? Someone you know is going to die from the use of tobacco, it may have already happened. We must, out of concern for one another rise up in protest and do whatever is possible to get people to quit smoking.
I refuse to accept the “I’ve tried to quit smoking but I can’t” response because I tried and I did quit. It took a lot of tries but I kept on quitting until I quit and that was 23 years ago. Yes there is some discomfort hell there’s a whole lot of discomfort, but it pales in comparison to the discomfort of cancer, emphysema, and a host of other diseases.
I can give you a gazillion facts about cigarette smoke and how it can harm you, I can provide you with tons of scientific research that proves how deadly tobacco products can be and I can show you what it costs in terms of dollars and none of those things will convince a smoker to quit. So I’m going to tell you about me.
I am almost 75 years old. I have already had a heart transplant, gastric surgery for ulcers; I have osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Tobacco is likely the primary contributor to all of them.
Now you might ask, “What are you complaining about, you are 75?” Well, let me put my health in perspective. My father in law is 88 and in better shape than I am. He has never had a cigarette.
Yes, I’m glad I’m alive but had I never smoked my quality of life would be a whole lot better. My personal experience with the perils of smoking could fill several medical books but I’ll spare you that and give you the executive summary.
I smoked for 37 years and often consumed up to four packs a day. I quit smoking in 1991 after watching my father die of coronary artery disease and chronic bronchitis. He had been a heavy smoker. He was 76 when he passed and so debilitated by lung and coronary artery disease he could not walk 50 feet without almost turning blue from lack of air. He died gasping for air and nothing could be done for him. I was there, I saw it first-hand.
I was there, too, when In November of 1998 I lost my wife of 35 years to lung cancer. She, too, had been a heavy smoker. She was diagnosed with the disease in 1996 when they found it in her legs. It had already spread. She went through both chemotherapy and radiation therapy — treatments that leave patients wishing they were dead. So toxic are these treatments they nearly destroy the will to live but for a short time perhaps 14 months she got better and then in October of 1998 the cancer returned in a massive assault on her entire body from limbs to brain.
She died a horrible death and I watched every second of it. I was holding her hand when I felt her body shudder for the last time and while saddened it was also a great relief that she had to suffer no more. I could go on but suffice it to say that if you smoke, you could experience the same terrible ending. Smoking will kill you. The only questions to be answered are when and how.
Now let me tell you about me and what cigarettes have done to the quality of my life and to my psyche.
When I quit smoking in 1991 I had already been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) a progressive lung affliction that slowly takes away your ability to function normally because you cannot breathe like a normal person. I’m not going to give you a medical explanation of COPD I’m going to let you experience it.
I could tell you about difficult breathing till the cows come home and you’ll say, “Yeah that sounds tough,” as you light another smoke — so try this. Read the following instructions then bookmark this page and do what they say.
Find a spring loaded clothespin if you can and pinch your nostrils shut. Then find a drinking straw and place it between your lips as you would to drink a soda or a shake but instead of drinking anything breathe through the straw.
With it still in your mouth run around the room and continue to breathe through the little tube. It’s a bit of a struggle isn’t it? Now crimp it somewhere so that it is only about half its normal size and continue to breathe through it. Get used to that feeling because if you are a smoker that’s what you are headed for.
With normal lungs when you exert yourself you can open your mouth and breathe more deeply to get more air. With COPD the crimped straw is all the capacity you have and as time goes on that very narrow passageway closes even more until you suffocate. Fun way to die, huh?
Here’s what COPD has done to me. And please, I do not want expressions of sympathy or of concern or support. I got myself into this mess and I’m dealing with it. I am telling this story because I want people to know what smoking will do to them.
When I emerge from the shower I have to sit to catch my breath, showering is too strenuous an activity. The same is true when I get dressed — pulling my pants on and putting on a shirt leave me breathless. If I have to bend over for any reason I am in major trouble because the action affects my diaphragm and further restricts my breathing so when I straighten up I am gasping for air. There have been days when Robin has to put my socks on and tie my tennis shoes.
My COPD limits me to very little activity. I have a disability parking permit but often the few spaces assigned are full (sometimes occupied by people who don’t belong there…”I just needed to go to the ATM”). But tobacco has done other things to my body as well. Just getting out of the car is sometimes an exhausting experience.
The Osteoporosis and osteoarthritis have left me unable to stand straight anymore because of extreme, chronic pain. I now must always use a cane when I walk and when I walk I don’t go very far or very fast. I can hardly turn my head from side to side and nodding it up and down is just as difficult. I cannot bold my head up anymore because of stiffness and pain. It is tilted forward and looking down. My shoulders and neck always hurt and I am on narcotic pain killers because there is no other relief for me, I’ve tried everything.
The worst part of all of this is what it does to your self-respect and self-worth. Call me a chauvinist if you like but when we go to Art Shows, Robin has to set up a tent and everything in it. She has to carry heavy loads from our truck to the tent site and all I can do is watch. I cannot even carry a small box any distance because the walk tires me out. Here I am a big strapping guy sitting in a van while my wife does all the work. I often get looks of disgust from other artists who see Robin doing all the work as I sit in the truck reading. I’ve been asked more than once why I’m not helping her. God knows I would give anything to be able to do so. Cigarettes have taken my health and even my dignity.
You might be asking yourself what all this has to do with organ donation/transplantation and related issues. Well, let me tell you that if it weren’t for tobacco we might not have an organ shortage. Tobacco has done two things to contribute to the ever widening gap between supply and demand. First it destroys organs so people need transplants and secondly it can render your organs unfit for transplantation. So those who smoke are likely to need transplants but may be unsuitable donors (sign a donor card anyway…let the doctors decide).
I started this post by pointing out that tobacco (cigarette smoking and second hand smoke) kills 443,000 Americans a year. Tobacco is the leading cause of preventable death in the world. Economic losses are also staggering. Smoking-caused diseases result in $96 billion in health care costs annually but that’s just the U.S.
The World Health Organization (WHO) takes the issue to another level. Here’s what they say, “Tobacco use kills more than 5 million people per year worldwide. It is responsible for 1 in 10 adult deaths. Among the five greatest risk factors for mortality, it is the single most preventable cause of death.
- Eleven per cent of deaths from ischemic heart disease, the world’s leading killer, are attributable to tobacco use.
- More than 70% of deaths from lung, trachea and bronchus cancers are attributable to tobacco use.
- If current patterns continue, tobacco use will kill more than 8 million people per year by 2030.
- Up to half of the world’s more than 1 billion smokers will die prematurely of a tobacco-related disease
For roughly half of adult smokers it isn’t a question of if smoking will kill them but how — and most smokers erroneously think lung cancer is the biggest threat. It’s a big one but the real threat is circulatory or cardiovascular disease.
It is a well-established fact that damage to normal blood flow is substantially worse than what is happening in your lungs.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, lung cancer is responsible for 28% of smoking related deaths while 43% are attributable to cardiovascular disease – primarily heart disease and strokes.
- It’s easy to appreciate that the 43 cancer causing chemicals in each and every puff are slowly building an internal time bomb. What few comprehend is that it’s far more likely that smoking will cause some portion of their body’s blood piping to completely clog, with downstream oxygen deprived tissues suffocating and dying.
- Picture the inside of once smooth coronary arteries whose job it was to feed our heart muscle oxygen instead gradually becoming narrower and narrower as they slowly fill with fats and cholesterols. Picture the same process occurring in blood pathways to the brain.
- Eventually it happens. Complete blockage occurs. All downstream tissues serviced with oxygen by the blood vessel immediately begin to suffocate and die. By far the most common site of smoker circulatory tissue death is the heart muscle (a heart attack) followed by the brain (a stroke).
If you don’t care about yourself think about what your habit can do to others. Second hand smoke is a killer, that’s no myth it is a fact smokers should consider before they light up near anyone.
A short summary of the effects of second hand smoke
From the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)
In children, secondhand smoke causes the following:
- Ear infections
- More frequent and severe asthma attacks
- Respiratory symptoms (e.g., coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath)
- Respiratory infections (i.e., bronchitis, pneumonia)
- A greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
In children aged 18 months or younger, secondhand smoke exposure is responsible for—
- an estimated 150,000–300,000 new cases of bronchitis and pneumonia annually, and
- approximately 7,500–15,000 hospitalizations annually in the United States.4
Health Effects: Adults
In adults who have never smoked, secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and/or lung cancer.3
- For nonsmokers, breathing secondhand smoke has immediate harmful effects on the cardiovascular system that can increase the risk for heart attack. People who already have heart disease are at especially high risk.3,5
- Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their heart disease risk by 25–30%.3
- Secondhand smoke exposure causes an estimated 46,000 heart disease deaths annually among adult nonsmokers in the United States.6
- Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their lung cancer risk by 20–30%.3
- Secondhand smoke exposure causes an estimated 3,400 lung cancer deaths annually among adult nonsmokers in the United States.6
There is no risk-free level of contact with secondhand smoke; even brief exposure can be harmful to health.
Our furry friends
It is bad enough that we are killing our friends, neighbors and children with smoke but innocent dogs, cats, hamsters and birds are also victims. http://healthypets.mercola.com/sites/healthypets/archive/2009/09/17/how-cigarettes-and-smoking-impact-your-pets-health.aspx
- A 2002 Tufts University study linked second-hand smoke to cancer in cats. The study found that cats living with smokers are twice as likely to develop malignant lymphoma—the most common feline cancer–as those in non-smoking households. Lymphoma kills 3 out of 4 afflicted cats within 12 months.
One reason cats are so vulnerable to the carcinogens in tobacco smoke is they are meticulous groomers. Daily grooming over a long period of time can expose their delicate oral tissues to hazardous amounts of carcinogens.
- A 2007 University of Minnesota study showed that cats who live with smokers have nicotine and other toxins in their urine.
- A 2007 Tufts School of Veterinary Medicine study linked second-hand smoke to oral cancer in cats (squamous cell carcinoma.) Cats living with more than one smoker and cats exposed to environmental tobacco smoke for longer than five years had even higher rates of this cancer.
- A 1998 Colorado State University study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, found a higher incidence of nasal tumors and cancer of the sinus in dogs living in a home with smokers, compared to those living in a smoke-free environment. The nasal/sinus tumors were specifically found among the long-nosed breeds such as retrievers and German shepherds. Unfortunately, dogs with nasal cancer do not usually survive more than one year.
- The same study showed higher lung cancer rates in short to medium nosed dogs who live with smokers, such as boxers and bulldogs. Their shorter nasal passages made it easier for cancer-causing particles to reach the lungs.
- Another study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that dogs in smoking households have a 60 percent greater risk of lung cancer.
How to Quit Smoking
For most tobacco users, tobacco cravings or urges to smoke can be powerful. But you’re not at the mercy of these tobacco cravings. When an urge to use tobacco strikes, remember that although it may be intense, it will be short-lived, and it probably will pass within a few minutes whether or not you smoke a cigarette or take a dip of chewing tobacco. Each time you resist a tobacco craving, you’re one step closer to stopping smoking or other tobacco use for good. But it can be difficult.
So here are 10 ways to help you resist the urge to smoke or use tobacco when a tobacco craving strikes, no matter where you are:
- Delay. If you feel like you’re going to give in to your tobacco craving, tell yourself that you must first wait 10 more minutes and then do something to distract yourself for that period of time. This simple trick may be enough to derail your tobacco craving. Repeat as often as needed.
- Don’t have ‘just one.’ You might be tempted to have just one cigarette to satisfy a tobacco craving. But don’t fool yourself into believing that you can stop at just one. More often than not, having just one leads to another, then another — and you may wind up using tobacco again.
- Avoid triggers. Urges for tobacco are likely to be strongest in the situations where you smoked or chewed tobacco most often, such as at parties or bars, in the car or while watching television. Identify your trigger situations and have a plan in place so that you can avoid them entirely or get through them without using tobacco. Don’t set yourself up for a smoking relapse. If you usually smoked while you talked on the phone, for instance, keep a pen and paper nearby to occupy yourself with doodling rather than smoking.
- Get physical. Physical activity can help distract you from tobacco cravings and reduce the intensity of cravings. Just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity can make a tobacco craving go away. Get out for a walk or jog. If you’re stuck at home or the office, try squats, deep knee bends, push-ups, running in place, or walking up and down a set of stairs a few times. If physical activity doesn’t interest you, try prayer, needlework, woodwork or journaling. Or do chores for distraction, such as vacuuming or filing paperwork.
- Practice relaxation techniques. In the past, smoking may have been your way to deal with stress. Trying to resist a tobacco craving can itself be stressful. Take the edge off stress by practicing relaxation techniques. These include deep-breathing exercises, muscle relaxation, yoga, visualization, hypnosis and massage.
- Call reinforcements. Touch base with a family member, friend or support group member for moral support as you struggle to resist a tobacco craving. Chat on the phone, go for a walk together or simply share a few laughs — or get together to commiserate about your cravings.
- Remember the benefits of quitting. Write down or say out loud the reasons you want to stop smoking and resist tobacco cravings. These might include feeling better, getting healthier, sparing your loved ones from secondhand smoke or saving money. And if you’re a closet smoker, you may save hours of time since you no longer have to spend time trying to conceal your habit.
- Go online. Join an online stop-smoking program. Or read a quitter’s blog and post encouraging thoughts for someone else who might be struggling with tobacco cravings. Learn from how others have handled their tobacco cravings.
- Try nicotine replacements. Try a nicotine replacement product instead of a cigarette. Some types of nicotine replacement therapy, including patches, gums and lozenges, are available over-the-counter. Nicotine nasal spray and the nicotine inhaler are available by prescription, as are the stop-smoking medications bupropion (Zyban) and varenicline (Chantix).
- Chew on it. Give your mouth something to do to fight a tobacco craving. Chew on sugarless gum or hard candy. Or munch on raw carrots, celery, nuts or sunflower seeds — something crunchy and satisfying.
Remember, trying something to beat the urge is always better than doing nothing. And each time you resist a tobacco craving, you’re one step closer to being totally tobacco-free.
The jury is out but so far no evidence of harm from them. From what little research I’ve done, though, they may be a good alternative (that’s not smoke…it is a vapor that quickly dissipates). The cost is comparable to real cigarettes if not a little cheaper and those who have tried them say the effect is the same. The difference is that you don’t get the carcinogens and other chemicals that are so deadly. Follow this link for more information. http://health.howstuffworks.com/wellness/smoking-cessation/e-cigarettes-help-stop-smoking.htm
You can quit smoking. You must or it is quite likely you will die from it and your death will be less than pleasant. There is plenty of help available. Talk to your doctor, Google “How to quit smoking” you will find something that works for you. Not every method works for everyone.
When I quit smoking in 1991 it was after several maybe scores of attempts, I lost track of how many. I wish I had the money for every time I threw my cigarette lighter and cigarettes out the window of my car, only to buy more at the next stop. Finally, though, with the help of Nicotine gum I was successful. I chewed that damned gum for two years after I quit and then switched to lemon drops for another two years but I am smoke free and loving it. You can do it but you have to try and try and keep on trying until you quit for good.
Bob Aronson is a 2007 heart transplant recipient. He is the founder of Facebook’s 3000 plus member Organ Transplant Initiative (OTI) and the author of most of these Bob’s Newheart Blogs. All that’s required to join OTI is that you support our mission and follow the rules for the group. You can read about both in the “About” section on the right side of the OTI group page.