Cigarette: A killer that travels in packs

"IT will indeed kill more people in the next two decades than HIV/AIDS, accidents, homicides, and suicides combined,” wrote Dr. Michael L. Tan in his column, “Pinoy Kasi.” “It kills and it disables, affecting not just the patient but their families and friends.”

Tan is talking about smoking. “A cigarette is the only consumer product which, when used as desired, kills its consumer,” commented Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, former director-general of World Health Organization (WHO). “The tobacco epidemic spares no nation and no people - four million unnecessary deaths per year, 11,000 every day.”

Cigarette smoking causes lung cancer. This fact has been recognized in the United Kingdom and the United States in the early 1950s yet. Subsequent studies have confirmed this claim.

“Scientific data shows that smoking is associated with 30-40 percent of all cancer deaths,” says Dr. Tanquilino Elicano, Jr., one of the country’s cancer experts. “Cancer risk increases with intensity of the habit, duration and the amount of tar in the cigarettes.”

But despite this, Filipinos continue to smoke. In fact, results from the study conducted by the National Nutrition and Health Survey showed that the smoking prevalence in the country is higher than that in Singapore (24.2 percent), Japan (47.4 percent) and the United States (24.1 percent).

Unknowingly, lung cancer is just one of the many diseases smokers likely to get. Consider these:

Emphysema: Emphysema is one of a group of lung diseases referred to as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) that can interfere with normal breathing. Other diseases that come under COPD include asthma and chronic bronchitis.

Emphysema is a widespread disease of the lungs and people having this illness are particularly vulnerable to pneumonia, bronchitis, and other lung infections.

Smokers are also likely to suffer from cardiovascular problems such as heart failure. “Slow drowning” is how some doctors describe those who die from emphysema.

Heart attack: A person’s chance of getting a heart attack increases by threefold if he smokes. Medical science says smoking promotes the hardening of the arteries and reduces the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood.

“Cells in the heart muscle that do not receive enough oxygen-carrying blood begin to die,” says Dr. Rafael D. Castillo, a cardiologist who works at the Manila Doctor’s Hospital. “The more time that passes without treatment to restore blood flow, the greater the damage to the heart.”

Rheumatoid arthritis: Arthritis may be the oldest known ailment on earth. Mummies uncovered in Egypt had it, prehistoric man had it, and dinosaurs had it. There are several forms of arthritis and the most common is rheumatoid arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs when the body’s immune systems attacks the joints leaving sufferers in severe pain and with reduced mobility. Initial analysis of data from a research done by the Stanford University showed that smoking is a risk factor for developing rheumatoid arthritis among men.

Impotence: Until the early 1970s, experts thought that most erection problems pointed to underlying problems in the psyche. Today, the medical community recognizes that almost half of all impotent men have a physical or structural problem that’s at least partly responsible.

Take smoking, for instance. Smoking has also been observed to cause slower penile erection among men because excessive nicotine in the bloodstream “causes constriction of the penile artery, the blood vessel necessary in male erection,” to quote the words of Dr. Priscilla Tablan, a chest physician at the Lung Center of the Philippines. She also said smoking might seriously hamper a man’s potency or ability to sire children.

Snoring: “Thou dost snore distinctly,” wrote William Shakespeare in “The Tempest.” “There’s meaning in thy snores.” Men are more likely to snore than women. In the Philippines, for instance, snoring affects approximately 50 percent of men and only 20 percent of women.

Snuff snoring by snuffing cigarettes. “Smokers tend to be snorers,” says Dr. Earl V. Dunn, a researcher at the University of Toronto, Sunnybrook Medical Center Sleep Laboratory. “So, stop smoking.”

Cervical cancer: “Cervical cancer cases in developing countries of the region are almost four times more numerous than in developed countries,” reports Dr. Gauden Galea, cancer specialist of the WHO regional office in Manila. In the Philippines, more than 4,000 new cases are reported each year.

According to the Singapore Cancer Society, some of the risk factors associated with cervical cancer include: sexual intercourse at an early age; multiple sex partners; genital infections such as herpes and human papilloma virus (HPV); and first pregnancy before the age of 20.

Osteoporosis: Cigarette smoking lowers estrogen levels, says Dr. Kenneth Cooper, author of the book, Preventing Osteoporosis. And women with lower estrogen levels are at increased risk for developing osteoporosis. Literally “porous bones,” osteoporosis is a “thinning” of the bones that occurs when the calcium that keeps them strong has seeped out.

Osteoporosis is less common among men for reasons that men have larger skeletons. Men’s bone loss starts later in life and progresses more slowly. The male species do not experience the rapid bone loss that affects women when their estrogen production drops as a result of menopause.

Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) originated in South America. It was originally used in rituals and ceremonies. When Christopher Columbus and his men returned to Spain after discovering America in 1492, one of the things they brought back with them was tobacco. Today, the habit of smoking has become widespread, and hundreds of millions of people are now using tobacco in various forms.

“When you start smoking at a young age, say at 15, you develop cancer of the lungs in 25 years,” former health secretary Dr. Juan Flavier once said. “By that time, you’re only 40 and at the peak of your productivity. At a time when you’re supposed to be enjoying your life and your family, you’re dead.”

“Smoking is a chronic disease,” says Dr. Michael C. Fiore, director of the Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention in Madison, Wisconsin. “Once you quit, you’re always at risk of smoking again. But each time you try, you develop better stop-smoking skills.”

Are you ready to quit smoking? Here are the benefits, if you do, according to the National Cancer Institute in the United States: “Quitting smoking decreases the risk of lung and other cancers, heart attack, stroke, and chronic lung disease. The earlier a person quits, the greater the health benefit.”

For example, research has shown that people who quit before age 50 reduce their risk of dying in the next 15 years by half compared with those who continue to smoke. Smoking low-yield cigarettes, as compared to cigarettes with higher tar and nicotine, provides no clear benefit to health.

“I’m glad I don’t have to explain to a man from Mars why each day I set fire to dozens of little pieces of paper, and put them in my mouth,” wrote Mignon McLaughlin in The Second Neurotic’s Notebook (1966).