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January 17, 2013

You Canít Escape It: Smoking Is Bad For You

Patricia A. Kelly

Smoking is not good. Everyone knows that. In recent compiled data reports from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, covering the years 2000 to 2004, an estimated 443,000 annual premature deaths can be attributed to smoking cigarettes alone….


…and that doesn’t count other forms of tobacco use, also quite deadly. Five point one million years of productive life are lost annually, along with $96.8 billion in financial productivity losses.


Smoking causes 90% of lung cancer deaths in men, 80% in women. It causes 90% of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) deaths and 30% of all cancer deaths. It leads to infant prematurity and illness. It damages all organs of the body.


Direct health care expenses attributed to smoking are estimated at $96 billion per year.


Smoking is addictive, pleasurable and a great social activity, formerly to be enjoyed in a downtown bar with a beer, now to be enjoyed on the sidewalks outside of bars, in company with like-minded friends. People now go outside of their own homes to smoke, knowing that it will improve internal air quality. Even though the drugs in cigarettes are stimulants, they are soothing to troubled nerves world over.


Is this fun worth the suffering? Many people, that is, 45.3 million adults, or 19.3% of the adult population, behave as if it is.


Most of them don‘t really believe that, though. They can’t help being aware of the dangers, and feeling concern about their own smoking. They often start when young, thinking it makes them more sophisticated, and then find themselves hooked. They tell themselves many stories, soothing themselves with plans to quit in the future, or with the possibility that they will be spared. Just the thought of quitting triggers the desire for another cigarette.


I’m a nurse, and a former long-term smoker. Personally, I experienced some coughing, my mom’s criticism of the odor, and a sense of failure and personal lack of discipline. As a nurse, I was privileged to see the health effects, and the deep suffering attributable to this cursed activity.


Although I spent some time as a nurse administering chemotherapy, it wasn’t the lung cancer that finally inspired me to win my personal struggle. It was the chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and the idea of being tethered to an oxygen tank for years of misery. I knew, if I got lung cancer, I’d probably only suffer for a year or two, and then die. With chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, also known as emphysema, I could suffer for a long time, and lose my life inch by inch.


I kept track of my quitting efforts, and actually know that I quit 20 times for two weeks or more, three of them for six months. It got harder and harder. I tried hypnosis and the nicotine patch. Hypnosis worked for six months, during which time I was really depressed. I knew I craved something, but the hypnosis had broken my mental connection to smoking, so I felt helpless to make myself feel better.


Although the patch helped, nothing quit for me or really limited the difficulty much. The final successful attempt was followed by months of sluggishness, mental apathy, ankle swelling and other symptoms. Gradually, my cough went away and I finally started feeling better. Still, I’ve smoked five cigarettes in the last 20 years, and each one has triggered the urge to smoke another.


In the past year the personal implications of smoking have come home to me again in the form of seriously ill friends who smoke, and whose illnesses are almost undoubtedly directly related to their smoking. One has severe lung disease; the other suffered heart attacks and a brain hemorrhage.


I care deeply about these people, and it hurts me to watch their suffering, as well as to contemplate the possibility of their deaths. I watch the tired faces of their families and sense their suffering. I think of the children and grandchildren and how great will be their loss, the loss of people whom they love so much, and whose caring could help them to grow into wise, contributing adults.


It hurts, not only the smokers, but many others, and everyone pays.


In addition to the emotional toll on loved ones and the community, second-hand smoke, and “everlasting” filters littering the environment, the financial numbers are mind boggling.


Ninety-six billion dollars in medical expenses directly attributed to smoking is a lot of money. We all pay it in the form of increased insurance premiums, taxes and Medicare payments. Two of my friends were hospitalized in the past year, at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars each. They are only two of many millions.


So, give it up folks. We love you, and we’ll all be glad you did.



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