- Raise awareness about the health risks associated with tobacco use
- Encourage governments around the world to adopt effective policies to reduce tobacco consumption
In the United States alone, tobacco use is the largest preventable cause of death and disease. The theme for this year’s World No Tobacco Day is ‘plain packaging’ as a means of “reducing the attractiveness of tobacco products,” and limiting “misleading packaging and labeling”.
Health Risks of Tobacco Use
Each year, cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths (nearly one in five deaths) in the United States. To put this into perspective, that is more deaths than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, and firearm-related incidents combined.
Common health risks associated with tobacco use vary and include an increased risk of:
- Coronary Artery Disease
- Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
- Macular Degeneration
- Infertility Issues (male and female)
- Pregnancy Issues (pre-term delivery, low birth weight, sudden infant death, ectopic pregnancy, & orofacial clefts)
- And more
Perhaps most alarming is the fact that cigarette smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in the body. Besides these health issues, other negatives include: stained teeth, bad breath, premature face wrinkles, and a diminished sense of taste/smell.
How do most people start smoking?
Most people start smoking when they are in their teens, and by the time they reach adulthood, they are addicted. Three of the main reasons that young people smoke are:
- To look “mature”
- To be like their friends
- To experiment
One other common reason is the excitement of experimenting with something that is forbidden. Adults smoke for other reasons, however. They may have a lot of personal and/or financial problems, or they may smoke to feel relaxed, to give them energy, or to just make them feel good.
What can we do to prevent tobacco use?
Parents can prevent tobacco use in teens by setting a good example in not smoking or quitting if they are a smoker. Parents should understand that teen smoking can be a form of rebellion or a way to fit in with peers.
Parents should talk with teens about how tobacco companies try to influence ideas about smoking, and they should remind teens that smoking is dirty, smelly, and expensive. Instead, teens should direct their energy to healthier outlets, such as: exercise, and community service (like volunteering).
What about e-Cigarettes and/or “vaping”? Is it safer than smoking?
Electronic cigarettes or “e-Cigarettes” are battery-operated devices that heat a liquid containing nicotine into a vapor that the user inhales. They are NOT approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for smoking cessation, and the safety and efficacy of their use is largely unknown.
Although e-cigarettes do not expose the user to many of the toxins found in tobacco smoke, they DO expose the user to nicotine and other heated/aerosolized compounds, which can be carcinogenic and cause other well-known, negative health effects.
Are there any actual health benefits related to tobacco?
Nicotine is not all bad; it can be useful if given under medical supervision. Nicotine actually has a well-proven effect in preventing and improving ulcerative colitis, and many doctors prescribe Transdermal nicotine patches for this condition with great success.
Interestingly, the tobacco leaf and flower contain high amounts of cembranoids, which show great promise as anticancer agents. Other benefits include the treatment of Alopecia and dandruff when mixed with coconut oil. Some tobacco leaves can also be used to treat eczema burns.
How dangerous is secondhand smoking, really?
Secondhand smoke is the combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers. Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Hundreds are toxic, and about 70 can cause cancer.
In infants and children, secondhand smoke can cause:
- Severe asthma attacks
- Respiratory infections
- Ear infections
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
Smoking during pregnancy results in more than 1,000 infant deaths annually in the U.S. In adults, secondhand smoke can increase the risk of coronary artery disease, deadly heart attacks, and stroke. People who already have heart disease are at an especially high risk.
Secondhand smoke also causes lung cancer in adults who have never smoked. Even brief, secondhand smoke exposure can damage cells in ways that set the cancer process in motion.
And Third-Hand Smoke?
Third-hand smoke refers to the tobacco toxins that build up over time. One cigarette will coat the surface of a certain room (a second cigarette will add another coat, and so on). Smokers, themselves, are also contaminated. They emit toxins from their clothing and their hair.
Third-hand smoke has dangerous effects – especially in infants and children – since their developing brains are uniquely susceptible to extremely low levels of toxins. Babies and children are closer to surfaces, such as floors and walls. They tend to touch or even mouth the contaminated surfaces.
6 Ways to Get Help & Quit Smoking For Good
Seventy percent of smokers want to quit but struggle. That said, here is some advice:
#1 – WRITE IT DOWN.
Write down why you want to quit. Is it to be around loved ones more? Have better health? Set a good example for your children?
#2 – WANT IT.
Really wanting to quit is an important first step in determining how much success you’ll have.
#3 – BE KNOWLEDGEABLE ABOUT NICOTINE.
Know that nicotine is addictive and that it will take time commitment, and effort to help you quit smoking.
#4 – TAKE IT ONE DAY AT A TIME.
Take quitting one day at a time – even one minute at a time. Move at your own pace.
#5 – GET HELP.
Ask your doctor. Call the 1.800.QUIT.NOW quitline (1.800.784.8669). Visit the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Tips from Former Smokers webpage.
#6 – PUT IT INTO PERSPECTIVE.
Finally, remember that more than half of all adult smokers have quit smoking, and you can too. Quitting is the single most important step you can take to protect your health and the health of your family.
About Gamal Tadros, MD
Dr. Gamal Tadros is a board certified Primary Care Physician with WakeMed Physician Practices. Dr. Tadros is board certified in Internal Medicine with more than three decades of clinical experience in Internal Medicine, Women’s Health, and Geriatric Medicine.