Get back your lungs or else…

By Kaula Nhongo
October 2012
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The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that by 2030, cigarette smoking will be the fourth leading cause of death.

According to WHO, unless urgent action is taken, the annual toll of tobacco-related deaths will rise to more than eight million. And with 1.3 billion chain smokers worldwide, WHO has classified cigarette smoking as one of the chronic diseases besides cancer and heart diseases.

The director and chief physician of the Department of Critical Care at Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital, Professor Guy Richards says cigarette smoking is related to seven out of the top 10 leading causes of deaths worldwide.

Smoking trends have been identified among young teenagers who start smoking because they see it as a way of seeming ‘cool’ and among young professional women who see it as a sign of independence and maturity, he adds.

“Smokers lose plus or minus 13 years of their lifespan and in every six seconds, someone dies because of lung cancer mostly caused by cigarette smoking,” he says, adding that studies continue to show that cigarette smokers typically take eight to 12 puffs over five to seven minutes inhaling a total of 0.5 to 0.6 of a litre of smoke.

“Kids addicted to cigarette smoking have contributed to the increase in the number of cigarette smokers,” says Richards.
Cigarettes are highly efficient nicotine delivery devices and are as addictive as drugs such as heroin or cocaine.

The dangerous substance in cigarettes - nicotine - is the one that goes to the lungs and then enters the blood circulation and then goes to the brain, which then releases the pleasure chemical that gives one the few minutes’ head rush, according to WHO.

Smokers have a high risk of developing major lung diseases including bronchitis, emphysema, pneumonia and influenza. It does not only affect internal organs but it also affects outside appearance.

Experts say that tobacco smoke released into the environment has a drying effect on the skin’s surface and because smoking restricts blood vessels, it reduces the amount of blood flow to skin, thus, depleting the skin of oxygen and essential nutrients resulting in a pale appearance.

Research continues to show that the skin ageing effects of smoking may be due to increased production of an enzyme that breaks down collagen in the skin.

Collagen is the main structural protein of the skin which maintains elasticity. The more a person smokes, the greater the risk of premature wrinkling. Darkening of the skin around the eyes is also a possible effect of smoking.

Despite alarming warnings that cigarette smoking is dangerous, the number of cigarette smokers around the world continues to grow. And according to Richards, stopping cigarette smoking is not as easy as people think, there is a process involved.

“Surveys show that the majority of smokers (around 70%) wish to stop smoking, yet the successful quit-rate remains very low. 20% or less of those who embark on a course treatment succeed in abstaining for as long as a year while only 3% succeed in using willpower alone,” he says.

Richards emphasises how important it is for someone who is willing to stop smoking to get professional help first before embarking on the journey. The second step one needs to take is to prepare mentally, knowing that it will not be easy. Demolishing smoking myths is the third stage on the road to recovery such as eating dark chocolate whenever the crave for a smoke is insurmountable even though it works for others.

“Soon after smoking a cigarette, the body and brain start to want more nicotine and many people begin to feel increasingly uncomfortable until they have the next cigarette. If you see it this way, cigarettes are not a familiar friend but more like a greedy parasite demanding attention,” he warns.

Richards stresses that one needs to understand what to expect; “Some find the first few days difficult but as time goes by, it gets easier. Nicotine withdrawal may make you restless, irritable or accident prone but these things will pass and you will quickly start to feel the benefits.”

Involving family and friends is also very vital for one’s recovery as support will be provided. Research shows that using replacement nicotine products such as patches, gums and tablets increases the chances of stopping smoking altogether.

The most important concern that cigarette smokers should watch out for is relapsing. It is advisable for one to be on guard, especially the first few days or weeks.

Cigarette smoking does not only harm those who smoke but also those around them. Second-hand or passive smoking as it is referred to, has also been identified as harmful and is known to cause eye irritation, headaches, coughs and nausea.

Smoking mothers also put their kids at risk as this opens avenues to diseases such as asthma, learning difficulties, respiratory as well as ear infections.

Richards advises that for those who wish to stop, they should take it one step at a time, start by cutting down on the number of cigarettes smoked per day until they stop completely. PF