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Monday, Mar 30, 2015

Dreaming of a smoke-free society

Special to Hernando Today


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A few weeks ago news media reported the death of Eric Lawson, the rugged Marlborough man in cigarette ads. Guess what he died of? From respiratory failure brought on by COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) caused by his years of smoking. What an irony, right? Interestingly, in his later life he also appeared in anticigarette ads as well - while continuing to smoke!

It has been 50 years since the ninth surgeon general of United States, Luther Terry, released the first report that directly linked cigarette smoking to lung cancer and other detrimental health effects. Needless to say, this compelling document dramatically influenced the public's attitude about smoking, changing it from an acceptable, even a fashionable one, to something that is not approved anymore by the public. In the words of Kathleen Sebelius, secretary of Health and Human Services: "Successes in tobacco control has more than halved the rate of smoking in the general public in U.S. since the 1964 landmark report from the Surgeon General came out."

Thanks to the smoke-free laws, we now can comfortably fly in airplanes, eat without coughing and sneezing in restaurants, and walk around supermarkets and malls breathing fresh air.

Earlier this year, the current acting surgeon general of the United States has issued a follow-up report, "Health consequences of smoking - 50 years of progress." The burden of evidence clearly shows that cigarette smoking continues to be a major hazard affecting the public health of this country. As per the latest research, "This year alone, one half million people will still die prematurely from smoking. And the total economic burden from tobacco abuse will exceeded $ 299 billion annually. And if we continue this trajectory, 5.6 million children alive today will die prematurely."

These are alarming statistics and a major cause for concern. I cannot imagine, in spite of such concrete evidence about the health hazards of tobacco, a sizable segment of the population - about 19 percent - still voluntarily puffs on a lit cigarette and enjoys inhaling its poisonous fumes. Not only are they damaging their own health, they also are putting their loved ones in harm's way. Research clearly has proven the deleterious effects of "secondhand" or passive smoking. Please also remember we taxpayers have to bear some of the expenses related to this bad habit. I simply do not understand the rationale of this whole absurd scenario.

"Physicians often discuss 'moderation' when helping patients change and maintain their health habits, but that is not the case with smoking. No amount of smoking is good and several studies have shown that even a small amount tobacco is very harmful. As a society, we need to eliminate smoking from our culture," said John G. Harold, MD, MACC, president of the American College of Cardiology. "Heart disease is the leading cause of death in both men and women, and if almost half of those cases are from tobacco, then that is a serious problem."

A few years ago, I was in Singapore for a vacation. I couldn't help noticing how clean the streets and all the public places looked. So was every restaurant and marketplace that I visited.

"You know why?" my cousin, with whom I was staying, asked me. "You light up one cigarette in any public place here, the police will fine you right away and may even arrest you. Same if you drop any trash like crumpled candy wrappers or empty coffee cups anywhere."

There are a few questions that we need to ask at this juncture. "Are we really winning the war against tobacco being waged now for 50 years? Hasn't our nation suffered enough? How long do we have to continue fighting this war?"

Just when I thought we were getting a grip on smoking addiction, along came a new device called an electronic cigarette! Those who smoke this product might not realize its vapor also contains nicotine just like regular cigarettes, albeit in a smaller quantity. So it's still harmful to your health. Nicotine, as you know, is the chief offending agent in any tobacco product. It may be okay to use electronic cigarette as a temporary replacement - as an aid in smoking cessation - and it may indeed be more effective than traditional pharmacotherapy. But if you think it's a harmless replacement for cigarettes, it's not. Used on a regular basis, e-cigarettes also pose a threat to your health.

Every physician has encountered patients whose lives have been markedly impaired or ended prematurely by addiction to tobacco smoking. Stopping smoking is fundamental to improving one's health and preventing premature deaths. We must discourage all our youngsters from ever starting this bad habit. Everybody should know that "Anti-Tobacco Culture Saves Lives." So, on the 50th anniversary of the first smoking report, let us all work together to establish a zero smoking society.

M. P. Ravindra Nathan is a cardiologist at Crescent Community Clinic in Spring Hill. He is the author of "Stories From My Heart."

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