Although smoking has been associated with many different health risks the practice remains common and has even been reported to be on the rise. An interesting observation is that it is not only the uneducated who smoke but smoking is also found among the educated and has been seen to cut across diverse socioeconomic status, age groups, sex, religion, ethnicity and cultural belief among other differences. A healthy lifestyle helps to promote health, prevent diseases and prolong life and as such should be the target of individuals. Cessation of smoking/avoidance of smoking is one of the healthy behaviours people are advised to adopt as studies show that doing so reduces the risks of mortality from certain diseases. Health education and awareness on the dangers of smoking and the need to quit by smokers aims to achieve a reduction in illness and mortality rates from smoking-related conditions, improvement in the quality of life of the population and overall national development. A variety of responses may be obtained as the reasons why people smoke, however, the damaging effects of smoking on health can be experienced by all no matter the reason just as the popular saying by Stephen R. Covey, “While we are free to choose our actions, we are not free to choose the consequences of our actions.” Among the many harms linked to smoking, exposure of persons (second hand smokers) who are around the active smoker to serious health risks can be quite disturbing.
There is no better time to quit smoking than now and doing so can be the best decision yet. Smoking has been associated with many medical conditions like
Lung diseases: Smoking increases a person’s risk of lung cancer, tuberculosis, chronic obstructive lung diseases (COPD), asthma as studies show that exposure to secondhand smoke can trigger asthma in children and adults, and also restrict lung growth in children. For individuals who aim to maintain healthy lungs, smoking should be avoided in all forms including passive smoking. Toxins from smoke absorbed in the lungs exposes a person to increased risk of respiratory infections and other conditions. The role of smoking in disease causation also depends on genetic and other predisposing factors.
Heart diseases: Smoking is dangerous to the heart as it contains chemicals which can damage the heart and is one of the major causes of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) like coronary artery disease, atherosclerosis, myocardial infarction (heart attack) and stroke among others. The amount of cigarette smoked in a day and the duration of smoking can be an indicator of the level of risk to which a smoker is exposed, however, a smoker is at risk irrespective of number of sticks smoked in a day. A very important aspect is that secondhand smokers (also known as passive smoking/environmental smoke are those who inhale smoke from the burning of tobacco or that which is exhaled by the active smoker) are also at risk of cardiovascular disease. Smoking causes the build-up of plaque (waxy substance that is made up of cholesterol and other components) which could limit the free flow of blood in the affected arteries.
Cancers: Smoking can cause cancer of any part of the body like mouth, throat, lungs, blood, cervix, bladder, kidneys, liver, prostate, stomach and pancreas among many others. The best way to prevent cancers associated with smoking is to avoid or stop smoking either in active or passive forms. Research shows that quitting smoking reduces an individual long term risk of cancers significantly. Although there is a general baseline risk of cancer with smoking, the relationship between smoking and cancer may be dose-dependent, in terms of the duration and quantity smoked. Smoking introduces harmful agents that can cause cancer (carcinogens) into the body and increases the chances of gene mutation which could lead to cancer.
In addition to the above mention effects of smoking on health, smoking can also affect reproductive health, depresses the immune system, increases risk of eye conditions, arthritis, skin diseases and premature ageing of the skin (smokers may look older than they are due) as well as poor skin tone, causes bad breath and stains the teeth, leads to addiction and can also encourage other unhealthy behaviours like excessive alcohol consumption, substance abuse.
An individual has the power to prevent consequences of smoking by making a decision to quit. It is crucial to note that there is no safe way to smoke and no health benefits that could be derived from smoking. In describing the health effects of smoking and tobacco use, the Centers for Disease Control and prevention (U.S Department of Health and Human Services), reported that “for every person who dies because of smoking, at least thirty people live with a serious smoking-related illness”
Smoking is an aspect of lifestyle that one can get addicted to due to complex brain activities by nicotine contained in tobacco which causes temporary pleasure and can make it difficult for smokers to quit. Some people experience unpleasant effects as signs and symptoms of nicotine withdrawal which discouraged them from quitting the habit of smoking, however, there are several treatment modalities for nicotine dependence. The appropriate option and further advice can be provided by the doctor. If you are not sure about when to stop or you are yet to decide on smoking status, you are encouraged that the best time is now.
Getting a consultation with a doctor to discuss decision to quit smoking can provide with useful information as to the most effective method. Over-the-counter or prescription-only products may be used for nicotine replacement therapy. Individual preferences abound and products should be used as specified and prescribed. Some examples of products include nicotine gums, patch, lozenges, inhalers among others. A strong will to quit is required so as not to relapse into the habit after quitting and having good support from family, friends, counselling, smoking support groups can be of huge benefits as they can provide motivation needed by the smoker to give up smoking. Effective management of stress as well as avoiding other triggers or situations that encourage smoking like excessive alcohol consumption, maintaining adequate diet and regular exercise as well getting regular medical check as recommended by your primary care provider can beneficial.
Some gains of not smoking, in terms of some effects of smoking on certain systems or organs in the body, can be experienced almost immediately after cessation of smoking regardless of how long a person has smoked. For instance, a former smoker’s heart rate may return to normal, long term risks of cancers can be lowered significantly in the individual and exposure of secondhand smokers to smoke will be greatly reduced among many others.
“If you smoke, quit. If you don’t smoke, good choice, don’t start”