By DR. DANIEL NAFZIGER
Elkhart County Health Officer
The first time in life that I remember being lucky to be ignorant was in elementary school. A friend gave me a cigarette to smoke. I was ignorant as to how to smoke one so I took a “good” long hard drag on it just like I’d seen TV stars do. I promptly began coughing my fool head off. I don’t think I was ever again in danger of becoming addicted to tobacco because it was such an unpleasant experience.
Unfortunately, millions of Americans were not as ignorant as I was and their initial exposure to tobacco was not unpleasant enough to keep them from becoming addicted. That — and lots of advertising money from Big Tobacco — has contributed to tobacco becoming the leading cause of preventable death in the United States.
The average teenager is still more likely to be watching their favorite TV and movie stars smoke than to be reading a stuffy old physician’s column on why not to smoke. Teens don’t think about the fact that this terribly addictive habit can lead to their eventual death from a heart attack or lung cancer, and they often don’t see the harmful effects of tobacco in others; those whose lives have been ruined by advanced chronic obstructive pulmonary disease due to smoking are more likely to be at home next to their oxygen generator than out in public warning off teenagers of tobacco’s dangers.
So what are the facts? Smoking causes 90 percent of lung cancer.
Smokers are also at higher risk for bladder cancer, kidney cancer, throat cancer, mouth cancer, cancer of the esophagus, pancreatic cancer, stomach cancer, cancer of the nose and sinuses, cervical cancer, bowel cancer, ovarian cancer, some types of leukemia and in some cases breast cancer.
Are you tired yet of reading the word cancer? Cancer is only part of the problem, as smoking also causes an accumulation of fatty substances in the arteries including the arteries of the heart. Thus, smokers are more likely to have a heart attack. Smoking also increases other heart disease risk factors like diabetes and high blood pressure.
This all sounds pretty gloomy, but there is hope. If someone quits smoking today their risks do go down. Within 10 years your chances of having a heart attack drop to the same level as someone who has never smoked. After 15 years your cancer risks are the same as a nonsmoker. Of those who continue smoking, men lose about 13 years of life and women about 14 years of life on average.
Even if a smoker believes he is immune to the health risks of smoking, why not consider the financial impact? An average pack of cigarettes in Indiana costs about $5.13. For the two-pack-per-day smoker, that translates to $37,500 each decade. You can buy a pretty nice car with the savings from not smoking.
There are lots of other immediate benefits from quitting. Your breath, hair and clothes will smell better, your teeth will be whiter and your yellow fingers and fingernails will go away. You will find that food tastes better, your sense of smell should return to normal and you won’t need to leave a smoke-free restaurant or business to head outside for a smoke on bitterly cold winter days.
If you need help quitting, call the Indiana Quit Line at 1-800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669) or Tobacco Control of Elkhart County at 574-523-2117.