Why People Smoke, Why They Shouldn’t
The African famine grabbed the headlines in 1985, but it was cigarette smoking that killed over two million people. The famine made a big splash and roused the world to action, but smoking made hardly a ripple on the pond. To end the use of tobacco would be the biggest “drug bust” of all time, but do not hold your breath waiting for it to happen. Powerful forces are working against it.
SMOKING has become a global epidemic. Over a billion people smoke five trillion cigarettes a year. In 1964 the United States surgeon general, C. Everett Koop, warned of the dangers of smoking. Since then, the percentage of American smokers has decreased, but the use of tobacco has increased by 20 percent. Tobacco use worldwide has grown 75 percent. It is at epidemic levels in developed countries and growing explosively in developing nations. Diseases linked to smoking claim millions of lives each year. Five percent of the deaths in the world are tobacco related. Tobacco’s yearly death toll in Europe and the United States is 20 percent of total deaths. In Canada it is 17 percent of adult deaths.
The crowning irony and tragedy of all of this is the truth concerning smoking stated by WHO (World Health Organization): “The most important preventable health problem in the world.” So why do people continue to smoke and reap tobacco’s deadly harvest? Why they shouldn’t is obvious. Why they do goes a little deeper.
A heavily documented report on smoking released in January of this year by the Worldwatch Institute in Washington, D.C., supplies the above information, and much more. “Tobacco kills 13 times as many Americans as hard drugs do,” it said, “and eight times as many as automobile accidents.” It takes more American lives every year than were lost in World War II. The Worldwatch report also observed: “Governments conduct paramilitary operations against marijuana or opium production or transport, but not tobacco, a far deadlier crop.”
The more science learns, the more tobacco’s deadliness is revealed. Every year over two million smokers die of heart disease, lung cancer, and emphysema. A smoker’s heart works harder than a nonsmoker’s. It averages eight to ten more beats per minute during the day and three to five more during sleep. Research published in the magazine Science stated: “Cigarette smoking is the major single known cause of cancer mortality in the United States, and tobacco’s contribution to all cancer deaths is estimated to be 30 percent.” Most of this 30 percent is from lung cancer. In South Africa a smoker’s 90-cigarette-a-day addiction damaged his optic nerve and left him blind—a victim of tobacco amblyopia.
Liberated to Enslavement?
The modern woman, now liberated, is smoking more and reaping more of the harvest. Breast cancer used to be the biggest killer of American women—now it is lung cancer. It has skyrocketed 500 percent since 1950; it killed over 38,000 women last year. Heart disease is also catching up with women. Smoking taxes the heart and the circulatory system, and every year 800,000 women have either heart attacks or strokes. Women with chronic bronchitis who smoke have the dubious distinction of now outnumbering men by one million cases. Chemicals in cigarette smoke cause genetic damage that could initiate cancer in pregnant women and in their fetuses. Modern woman liberated? Liberated to enslavement by tobacco, perhaps, along with her male peers?
To minimize the dangers, some smokers switch from cigarettes to pipe or cigars. Last December the Journal of the American Medical Association sent that dream up in smoke. The tobacco used in pipes and cigars contains more nicotine, more cancerous tars, and produces more dangerous carbon monoxide gas than that used in cigarettes. Surveys show that many, especially teenagers, believe that smokeless tobacco is a safe alternative to cigarettes. Not so. Last year in the United States a 19-year-old man died from oral cancer. Before a congressional subcommittee, his mother said he started using snuff at age 12, but he refused to quit because smokeless tobacco carried no warning label and athletes advertised it.
Whether you chew or suck on moist snuff held between cheek and gum (called dipping), you are asking for oral cancer, gum disease, and nicotine addiction. Cancer develops where the tobacco touches cheek and gum, and the malignancy often spreads to other parts of the body. Smokeless tobacco contains 20 or more cancer-causing nitrosamines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The Worldwatch report said that over the last 20 years the use of chewing tobacco and snuff increased 40 percent, with a corresponding increase in oral cancer.
Victims of Others’ Smoke
Tobacco users endanger not only their own health but also that of others. More than ten studies last year showed that passive smoking—inhaling the smoke from the cigarettes of others—caused lung cancer in the nonsmoking spouses of smokers. Research in Japan, West Germany, Greece, and the United States indicates that “spouses of smokers are two or three times more likely to get lung cancer than those of nonsmokers.” One study “estimated that passive smoking in the United States causes more cancer deaths than all regulated industrial air pollutants combined.” Canadian scientists have reported that there is no safe level for secondhand smoke. It contains “over 50 known carcinogens and 3,800 chemical compounds.” One medical journal said: “The more smokers one has lived with, the higher one’s risk of cancer.”
And it is more than the puffing of smoke that pollutes the air of others. Between puffs the unfiltered smoke curls upward from cigarettes held in hands or sitting in ashtrays. This sidestream smoke accounts for 85 percent of the smoke in a room with smokers. It contains such irritants as formaldehyde, ammonia, acrolein, nitrous oxide, hydrocarbons, and particulate matter. It increases the carcinogens inhaled by nearby nonsmokers by 50 times.
Children with parents who smoke have more colds, influenza, bronchitis, asthma, and pneumonia. Learning ability is damaged in children of mothers who smoke. Studies have shown that they read more slowly and in school may lag several months behind the children of nonsmokers. Mothers who smoke give birth to underweight babies twice as often as nonsmoking mothers do. In India, 39 percent of the women chew tobacco. Underweight babies are the result. The Harvard Medical School Health Letter of July last year ended its article on the dangers of passive smoking, titled “The Last Gasp?,” with this statement: “And smoking adults should realize that when they light up in the presence of infants they are engaging in a not-so-mild form of child abuse.” And the abuse of everyone else around them!
Why Do People Start?
In view of all of this, why do people ever start smoking? Most of the recruits now come from among teenagers. They are special targets of tobacco advertising, in spite of company denials. These companies don’t go after youth in so many words, but their approach is subtle and successful. As one cartoonist mimicked about their ads: “We tobacco companies don’t want you kids to smoke unless you want to seem like adults.” Their ads are packed with the favorite lures of youth: sports cars, hang gliders, surfers, cowboys, athletes, macho men and seductive women—all young and beautiful fun-people frolicking in the great outdoors. A more honest setting would be hospitals and funeral parlors—but that wouldn’t sell cigarettes.
Mariel Hemingway, an idol to many young people, is disturbed at seeing teenagers smoke. She said: “I guess it’s a rebellion sort of thing, but it’s so stupid. Whenever I see young people smoking I can’t help myself from saying, ‘How in the world do you smoke? You grew up in a society where you knew it was a killer!’” To smoke, however, is to be with the in crowd—cool, grown-up, sophisticated. By smoking, teenagers feel independent, whereas in fact they are capitulating to peer pressure. They are also being manipulated by the tobacco companies. The companies know that their future is with the youth. If youths can be made addicts in their teens, they will likely be good customers for life.
Federal law in the United States already bans cigarette advertising on television and radio, but last December the American Medical Association pushed to “extend the ban to all other tobacco products and all other media.” Immediately, protesting cries rose up from the tobacco, advertising, and publishing industries. Their rights of free commercial speech under the First Amendment would be violated! Having failed to refute the health, youth, and addiction issues, some companies now create a new one: their civil rights and those of the smoker. For example, Philip Morris argues: “Today, tolerance for my smoking may be under attack. Tomorrow, it may be tolerance for someone else’s right to pray or choose a place to live.” The right they are really concerned about is their “right” to make money pushing dope.
Why So Hard to Stop?
Tobacco contains nicotine. Nicotine is a drug. It gives a high. It is also addictive. Cigarette companies deny this, but the U.S. surgeon general, Dr. Koop, points to Dr. William Pollin, director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, who said that “nicotine is the most addictive drug in our society.”
A billion smokers are hooked on nicotine. Few will acknowledge it. ‘I can quit any time I want to,’ are the cheap words used as a psychological salve. Once hooked, it is traumatic to get unhooked. Millions try, many succeed, even more fail. Last December, in a study on tobacco and health, the U.S. surgeon general reported on a 1980 study that found that 60 percent of U.S. smokers made a determined effort to stop smoking. More than 80 percent of them, however, relapsed within a year.
Quitting is no picnic, but it is worth the struggle. So do it. Do it for yourself, for your self-esteem, for your health, for your children’s health. Do it also for the comfort and health of those around you. This latter reason is important if you consider yourself a Christian. You are to love your neighbor. It is hardly loving to pollute his air with your poisonous smoke. (Matthew 7:12; 22:39) That is why users of tobacco who become Jehovah’s Witnesses quit the habit, and Witnesses who once sold tobacco products no longer dispense them.
There is no easy way to quit. If you smoke, you are a drug user trying to maintain a nicotine high. Those who have quit know nicotine withdrawal is no easy matter. Yet the millions of tobacco-related cases of illness and death every year are powerful incentives to quit. But for the majority of smokers these incentives are not as powerful as the addiction impelling them to continue. The habitual intake of nicotine, recent scientific research shows, is comparable to the use of amphetamines, cocaine, and heroin. Nicotine “meets the technical criteria of an addictive drug in laboratory studies by affecting brain wave function, altering mood and serving as a biological reward [the nicotine high] that elicits certain behavior from both laboratory animals and human volunteers.”
When smokers were given ammonium chloride, kidney excretion of nicotine increased sixfold. They compensated by smoking 20 percent more cigarettes and thus replenished the nicotine their system craved. An article in Science News showed that concerned smokers who switch to low-tar cigarettes “compensate by inhaling deeper and taking bigger puffs.” The article said that “this self-regulation of nicotine levels may be more evidence that nicotine leads to physical dependence.” Interestingly, laboratory studies have shown that getting nicotine intravenously also gives the high and thereby removes the need to smoke.
What is the best way to break the tobacco habit? These quotes from the February 1986 issue of the magazine Health reflect the general opinion: “Self-motivation is the only thing that will save a smoker.” “There’s no magic pill to make you quit or keep you off cigarettes.” “People quit smoking every day—even those most addicted to nicotine and the habit.” “Going ‘cold turkey’ [quitting abruptly] never killed anybody, and it appears to be the best way to kick smoking.” “In the final analysis, most cessation experts advise trying to give the habit one swift kick: Go cold turkey, and throw out the ashtrays. When the urge for a cigarette rises, walk the dog, take a run, take a warm bath, go shopping. In other words, ‘do anything but smoke!’”
If you smoke and want to quit, listen to these voices of experience. If that isn’t enough, give heed to the more important voice of Christ Jesus, who said: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matthew 22:39) Quit because you love yourself, and quit because you love your neighbor as yourself.
[Box on page 16]
An editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association said the following about what it called Tobaccoism:
“As a society, we have not awakened to the seriousness of the tobacco health hazard. We must realize that tobaccoism is the most deadly drug addiction in the United States today and that it is exacting a heavier toll in lives and dollars than cocaine, heroin, the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome, traffic accidents, murder, and terrorist attacks combined.”
After calling attention to the expenditure of a billion dollars a year on the war on cancer, it states: “What is missing is a parallel war on the causes of cancer. . . . It is currently estimated that the citizens of this country are losing their lives to tobaccoism at the rate of 1,000 per day.”
To fight the war on tobaccoism and its blight of “cancer, emphysema, and cardiovascular disease,” the editorial recommended: “The goal is to eventually derive tax income from tobacco sales that equals the cost to society of tobacco use. If it is costing our society and our economy (all of us) more than $2.60 for each package of cigarettes, then those who wish to smoke should be required to pay their way. . . . A significant reduction of the federal subsidization of the growing of tobacco should be sought. . . . Warning labels must be placed on all tobacco products. . . . All tobacco advertising must be removed from the public media. . . . Celebrities and moviemakers should be discouraged from glamorizing tobacco use.”
The editorial concludes: “I believe that it is time for clear vision and courage. The lines are drawn. The bugle call is sounding.”—JAMA, April 11, 1986.
[Picture on page 13]
EUROPEAN/U.S. DEATHS 20% DUE TO SMOKING
CANADIAN DEATHS 17% DUE TO SMOKING
WORLD DEATHS 5% DUE TO SMOKING
[Picture on page 14]
Smokers, imprisoned by nicotine addiction, make innocent victims suffer too