A long, long time ago, two Martians were sent to planet Earth on a mission. When they returned home, they submitted this report to the committee: “The Earth people have an odd practice. They light a fire at the end of a poisonous substance and then suck the smoke into their body. This results in much sickness and even death. The habit is also very expensive. Strange, those Earth people!”
Strange, indeed. Listen to the words of Graham Lee Hemminger: “Tobacco is a dirty weed, but I like it. It satisfies no normal need, still I like it. It makes you thin, it makes you lean. It takes the hair right off your bean. It’s the worst darn stuff I’ve ever seen. I like it.”
Here’s another one from Russell Hoban. “What a weird thing smoking is and I can’t stop it,” he wrote. “I feel cozy, have a sense of well-being when I’m smoking, poisoning myself, killing myself slowly. Not so slowly maybe. I have all kinds of pains I don’t want to know about and I know that’s what they’re from. But when I don’t smoke I scarcely feel as if I’m living. I don’t feel as if I’m living unless I’m killing myself.”
Smoking is one of the most common forms of recreational drug use. Cigarette smoking is today by far the most popular form of smoking and is practiced by over one billion people in the majority of all human societies. The history of smoking can be dated to as early as 5000 BC, and has been recorded in many different cultures across the world.
“A custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain, dangerous to the lungs” was how James I of England described smoking in the sixteenth century. Since then, nothing has changed.
The Geneva-based World Health Organization (WHO) reports that smoking related-diseases kill one in 10 adults globally, or cause four million deaths. “Every eight seconds, someone dies from tobacco use,” it points out. By 2030, if current trends continue, smoking will kill one in six people.
Every year, there are about 20,000 smoking-related deaths in the Philippines, where about 60 percent of men smoke. Studies have shown that tobacco use will drain nearly 20 percent of the household income of smokers’ families.
In a country where laws abound, there are no national laws prohibiting minors from buying cigarettes. In fact, many vendors of cigarettes are children. Small wonder, as many as 40 percent of adolescents boys smoke. Most of them started smoking in their early teens. The majority of these young smokers said peer pressure was one reason why they took up smoking. Most now wish they did not smoke.
A recent survey of Filipino adult smokers found 99.8 percent cited tobacco advertisements as one factor for initiating smoking. Movie stars, especially those from Hollywood, have helped, too. Humphrey Bogart and Audrey Hepburn were closely identified with their smoker persona and some of their most famous portraits and roles have involved a thick mist of cigarette smoke.
“I used to smoke two packs a day and I just hate being a nonsmoker,” said Oscar-nominated Michelle Pfeiffer, “but I will never consider myself a nonsmoker because I always find smokers the most interesting people at the table.”
Now, here’s something that may have been taken from a movie script: A teenager was sitting beside an old woman in a non-airconditioned bus. Thirty minutes after the bus left the terminal, the young man took a stick of cigarette from his pocket and asked the old woman, “Would you mind if I smoke?”
Hearing those words, the old woman stopped praying her rosary and looked at the young man squarely. “Yes, I mind,” she said. “I don’t want to have cancer.”
Physicians from all over the world agree: cigarette smoking is one of the top causes of cases. In the United States, smoking alone is directly responsible for approximately 30 percent of all cancer deaths annually.
According to the US National Cancer Institute (NCI), smoking also causes chronic lung disease (emphysema and chronic bronchitis), cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cataracts. Smoking during pregnancy can cause stillbirth, low birthweight, sudden infant death syndrome, and other serious pregnancy complications. One British survey found that nearly 99% of women did not know of the link between smoking and cervical cancer.
The health risks caused by smoking are not limited to smokers. Exposure to secondhand smoke significantly increases the risk of lung cancer and heart disease in nonsmokers, as well as several respiratory illnesses in young children. (Secondhand smoke is a combination of the smoke that is released from the end of a burning cigarette and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers.)
What makes cigarette smoking so deadly? Well, it contains about 4,000 chemical agents, including over 60 cancer-causing chemicals. In addition, many of these substances, such as carbon monoxide, tar, arsenic, and lead, are poisonous and toxic to the human body.
Nicotine is a drug that is naturally present in the tobacco plant and is primarily responsible for a person’s addiction to tobacco products, including cigarettes. During smoking, nicotine is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and travels to the brain in a matter of seconds. Nicotine causes addiction to cigarettes and other tobacco products that is similar to the addiction produced by using heroin and cocaine.
Ready to quit smoking? Here are the benefits, if you do, according to the NCI: “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). — ###