WHEN you see a friend poking a gun into his head, you probably think he’s committing suicide. The first thing you will do is to stop him from doing so. But it’s another story if you see him putting a cigarette in his mouth.
Unknowingly, both acts are suicides; the first is fast, the second is slow motion. “A cigarette is the only consumer product which, when used as desired, kills its consumer,” said Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland when she was still the director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO).
I don’t smoke and has never tried the vice. It’s good that my four sisters don’t smoke either. However, my four brothers smoke and so does my father, who influenced my brothers. “If he does, we can do it,” my brothers used to tell me.
At one time, our father stopped smoking. That was when a disease took over his health. As per doctor’s advice, he quit but when his health improved, he started smoking again. We were aghast by what he did. It was a matter of time that he developed emphysema.
We told him not to smoke anymore. He promised he won’t but there were instances that he tried smoking – when no one is around. But we know since some people who see him puffing cigarette told us.
Smoking is addictive and it’s legal. I may not be able to do something about it but I was elated when I read the report of our roving reporter, Judie Vega, that some smokes are already quitting the habit because of the high cost of cigarettes.
“Many smokers decided to quit because cigarettes are already expensive,” Rosemarie Basanez, tobacco prevention and control program manager of the Department of Health told reporters during the 16th anniversary of the anti-smoking campaign of the city and in observance of the World No Tobacco Day.
Tobacco (known in the science world as 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.
In the Philippines, Filipinos puff a billion sticks of cigarettes every week. A national smoking prevalence survey done in 1995 showed that 33% of adults over 18 were regular smokers. Smoking was three times more prevalent in males than in females.
Children and teenagers are not spared from smoking. A study conducted by the health department in 2001 found an estimated 42% of the students surveyed have tried smoking cigarettes, with 15% admitting they smoked their first stick before reaching the age of 10.
Recent reports said that tobacco kills at least 10 Filipinos every hour.
If that’s not alarming, read further. In countries where smoking is a long-established habit, about 90% of lung cancer, 30% of all cancer deaths, 20-25% of coronary heart diseases and strokes and over 80% of chronic bronchitis and emphysema are attributed to tobacco.
Studies have found when a person start smoking at a young age, say at 15, he develops cancer of the lungs in 25 years. By that time, he’s only 40 and at the peak of his productivity. At a time when he is supposed to be enjoying his life with his family, he’s already dead.
Aside from those mentioned earlier, other smoking-caused health problems include respiratory diseases, peptic ulcers and pregnancy complications, including low birth weight. Children born to smoking mothers risk impaired physical and intellectual development.
As stated earlier, smoking is addictive. “Smoking is as dangerous to human life as addiction to drugs. Drugs at least have a curative function, smoking has none,” someone once said.
So, what’s in a cigarette that makes it addictive? Nicotine, a colorless oily liquid, that’s what. Health experts say nicotine is one of the most toxic substances known; even the small dose ingested by smoking causes blood vessel constriction, raised blood pressure, nausea, headache, and impaired indigestion.
But nicotine is just one of the harmful ingredients that go into the making of every stick of cigarette. In fact, there are more. Health experts name the following chemicals: acetone, ammonia, arsenic, benzene, cadmium, carbon monoxide, DDT, demytelene metrozamine, ethyl-methyl, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen sulfide, hydroxyl, nickel, nitric acid, propylene glycol, plutonium 229, tar, sulfur dioxide, re-urythane, and benyl chloride.
“Whenever you pump these chemical compounds into your body, it’s a slow-motion suicide,” a health worker told us.
“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.”
But quitting is no easy task. Listen to the words of Inquirer columnist Michael L. Tan: “Quitting is the easy part; staying off cigarettes is much harder and that’s where you need friends and relatives who can encourage you to stay off. It helps to have other people point out how much better you look now that you’ve quit. Or having friends who understand why you’re avoiding parties and bar-hopping until you’re sure you can avoid the temptation to smoke.” – ###