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A Circular on Smoking

You should definitely think more than twice if you’re a smoker or a non-smoker. Is it safe to assume that every smoker in the world knows well and truly the actual harm it causes them and others around and why they should quit smoking? Studies show that few people understand the specific health risks of tobacco use. For example, the 2015 Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) in China revealed that only 26.6% of Chinese adults believe smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. The warnings on cigarette packs never really explain (nor will they) the potential harm and irrevocable damage smoking causes upon the circulatory system and in turn: the heart!

Smoking tobacco fabricates and damages the walls of your arteries thereby making them sticky from chemicals (there are 7000 chemicals that comprise a cigarette while burning) which means fatty material called atheroma deposits like plaque along the lining of the arteries. This leads to narrowing and clogging of the arteries that carry blood to your heart which damages and clogs them a heart attack. If this happens in the arteries that carry blood to your brain, it can lead to a stroke. 

Smoking causes one of every four deaths from CVD (Cardiovascular Disease) according to the U.S Department of Health and Human Resources. There is a plethora of other ill effects associated with smoking such as increased triglycerides (a type of fat in your blood) which lessen “good” cholesterol (HDL),  blood clotting which blocks the flow of blood into the heart and even brain, cell damage in blood vessels, peripheral vascular disease (disease in the vessels that supply blood to the arms and legs) and abdominal aortic aneurysm. To those who believe moderation is key: there is nothing known as “safe smoking “Even light smokers or those who only smoke occasionally damage their heart and blood vessels. Women who smoke and use birth control pills and smokers who have diabetes are at greater risk of heart attack and stroke. So, they must also focus on quitting smoking altogether.

After the damage caused in smokers comes the collateral damage caused to those who inhale “second hand smoke “or “passive” smokers. Secondhand smoke is produced while burning tobacco products and can also cause heart attacks and strokes. Nonsmokers, apart from dealing with the pollution which we all have to live with these days, are at an increased risk of stroke and heart disease as well. Inhaling secondhand smoke disrupts the normal functioning of the heart, vascular system and blood in ways that increase your risk of having a heart attack. There is a 20-30% rise in risk of stroke in secondhand smokers.

Tobacco kills six million people worldwide according to the WHO. In India alone almost 1 million deaths per year are attributed to smoking. More lives are lost to smoking than tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. Apart from the toll smoking takes on the Indian Economy the actual cost of smoking in low income countries with poor insurance coverage such as India is tremendously higher than high income ones. A smoker is just a victim but a victim of habit.

Some might endorse novel ways of consuming nicotine apart from smoking as is seen in the rise of Heated Tobacco Products or HTPs - tobacco products that produce aerosols containing nicotine and toxic chemicals upon heating of the tobacco, or activation of a device containing the tobacco ; these are in no way deemed safe and are just as addictive as cigarettes due to the presence of nicotine. There is no substituting one form of addiction gratification for another.

Apart from the toll smoking takes on the Indian Economy the actual cost of smoking in low income countries with poor insurance coverage such as India is tremendously higher than high income ones. A smoker is also a victim but a victim of habit and this is entirely preventable.

Smoking is one of a select number of man-made diseases that man himself can actually cure. There are a number of initiatives in India currently run under the National Tobacco Control Programme. Findings reveal that 8 out of 10 smokers who are aware of the harm it causes want to know how to quit smoking altogether. If there is a will; there should be many ways. For any habitual change to occur in life; the individual must find and seek support from those around. Lean on positive people who’ll encourage your endeavors, stay away from the company you feel can cause relapses, keep yourself busy, remove tobacco products from your surroundings, partake in physical activity and notice the gradual improvements in your capabilities. 

Seeking professional guidance is another viable option and one which shouldn’t be frowned upon. There are innumerable ways to enforce a positive lifestyle but it requires above all else: positive affirmations. Always be proud of trying to quit a habit you may never have had any control over to begin with; there is no shame in trying to be a better version of who you are for yourself and those you care about.  Life by itself is a regular tussle with people and things that are trying to change us and those trying to prevent us from changing. Find the right change, spread awareness: save lives.

Dr. Ashish Agarwal
Sr. Consultant
Cardiology

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