Young People Ask . . .
Is Smoking Really That Bad?
SMOKING had fascinated Oren since he was small. When his aunt used to light up her cigarettes, she would let him blow out the match. At age 16, he decided to try smoking. He went to a party and asked a girl for a cigarette—but he got sick before he could finish it.
His male ego bruised, Oren decided to “practice” smoking in private. One evening, after a heavy meal, he nervously lighted a cigarette and inhaled. What a surprise! No dizziness or nausea this time. Pleased with himself, he inhaled again and again. When he finished that cigarette, he wanted another. And afterward, still another. For the next six years, Oren would be a chain-smoker.
Smoking—Has the Tide Turned?
Many youths today might scorn Oren’s actions. According to one United States survey, 66 percent of teenagers polled believed that smoking one or more packs of cigarettes a day put a person at “great risk.” Ironically, some of the strongest condemnations come from smokers themselves! “It’s a disgusting habit,” says one 16-year-old smoker. In one study, nearly 85 percent of teenagers who smoked admitted that they thought it was harmful. Almost half said that they intended to quit—within five years, that is.
To all outward appearances, then, a tidal wave of disapproval now threatens to sweep away tobacco’s long-held popularity. Says the U.S. surgeon general’s 1989 report entitled Reducing the Health Consequences of Smoking—25 Years of Progress: “In the 1940s and 1950s, smoking was chic; now, increasingly, it is shunned. Movie stars, sports heroes, and other celebrities used to appear in cigarette advertisements. Today, actors, athletes, public figures, and political candidates are rarely seen smoking. . . . The population has been giving up smoking in increasing numbers.”
In 1965, of all adults in the United States, 40 percent smoked. Over 20 years later, only about 29 percent did. The surgeon general’s report further claims that “nearly half of all living adults who ever smoked have quit.” In 1976, about 29 percent of high school seniors smoked daily. Over a decade later, only 19 percent did.
It might therefore seem that little more needs to be said on the subject of smoking. But in spite of vigorous antismoking campaigns and dire warnings from physicians, overall worldwide tobacco consumption has increased significantly! Some 50 million adults in the United States continue to smoke. And what happened to Oren is happening to many other youths. Every day some 3,000 teenagers in the United States alone light up for the first time. That adds up to an astounding one million new smokers a year! Surprisingly, the majority of the new nicotine addicts are teenage girls.
Antismoking Campaigns—Nothing New!
It is not that people are unaware of the dangers. Why, long before researchers discovered scientific reasons to avoid smoking, common sense told people that it was a filthy, undesirable habit. Less than 90 years ago, cigarettes were illegal in many parts of the United States. Mere possession of them was a ground for arrest in some areas. And in ages past, even more stringent measures have been taken against smoking.
Smithsonian magazine describes some antismoking measures taken in the 17th century: “In China, an imperial edict issued in 1638 made the use . . . of tobacco a crime punishable by decapitation. . . . In Russia, smokers were flogged; the nostrils of repeat offenders were slit; persistent violators were exiled to Siberia. In Persia, they were tortured, impaled and/or decapitated.”
Granted, such sanctions were excessive and cruel. But in their own way, smokers are being cruel to their own bodies.
Smoking—What It Does to Your Body
Nicotine is the ingredient that gives tobacco its sinister appeal. However, says The World Book Encyclopedia: “A thimbleful of nicotine—about 60 milligrams (1/500 ounce)—could kill an adult if taken all at once. A typical cigarette contains about 1 milligram (1/30,000 ounce) of nicotine.”
Nicotine is also powerfully addictive. Concludes a report of the U.S. surgeon general: “Most smokers start smoking as teenagers and then become addicted. . . . Today, 80 percent of smokers say they would like to quit; two-thirds of smokers have made at least one serious attempt to quit.” Such attempts are often undermined by painful withdrawal symptoms: a gnawing craving for tobacco, restlessness, irritability, anxiety, headaches, drowsiness, stomach upsets, and an inability to concentrate.
Cigarettes, however, do more than pollute one with nicotine; a lighted cigarette is a veritable poison factory, spewing out some 4,000 different chemical compounds. Forty-three of these chemicals have been identified as cancer causing. Some of them are in the form of a gooey tar that sticks to the lungs and to the airways leading to the lungs. This can later result in lung cancer. Smoking is also thought to be “a contributing factor for cancer of the bladder, pancreas, and kidney; and to be associated with cancer of the stomach.”—Reducing the Health Consequences of Smoking.
It may take many years for a smoker to develop cancer. But just one cigarette is potentially harmful. Nicotine makes your heart beat faster, increasing your body’s demand for oxygen. Unfortunately, cigarette smoke also contains carbon monoxide—the poisonous gas emitted by automobile exhausts. This toxic substance heads for the bloodstream and actually impedes the flow of oxygen to the heart and other vital organs. Worse yet, nicotine constricts the blood vessels, further slowing the flow of oxygen. Smokers thus have an alarmingly high rate of heart disease.
Peptic ulcers, miscarriages, damaged offspring, strokes—these are just some of the many other risks smokers face. Each year there are some 2.5 million tobacco-related deaths worldwide. Over 400,000 of these deaths occur in the United States alone. The U.S. surgeon general claims: “Smoking is responsible for more than one out of every six deaths in the United States. Smoking remains the single most important preventable cause of death in our society.” Some health authorities fear that smoking will eventually kill as many as 200 million persons presently under the age of 20.
But smokers do not injure only themselves. By forcing others to breathe in their toxic fumes, they also expose nonsmokers to the risks of lung cancer and other respiratory ailments.
Making Your Own Decision
Little wonder, then, that nation after nation has taken steps to warn people of the dangers of tobacco or to curb its use. However, highlighting the risks seems to have little effect on many youths. “When I light up a cigarette, I feel relaxed,” says 15-year-old Holly. “I never think of getting cancer.”
A wise proverb warns: “The shrewd one that has seen the calamity has concealed himself; the inexperienced that have passed along have suffered the penalty.” (Proverbs 27:12) Do you really want to suffer the penalty of tobacco addiction, namely, cancer, heart disease, respiratory ailments? Is a nicotine high worth foul breath, a hacking cough, and yellow teeth?
On the other hand, there is a far more profound reason to avoid smoking: your desire to maintain friendship with God. Would you not feel offended if you gave someone an expensive present and he or she threw it away? Well, God gives us “life and breath.” (Acts 17:25) Imagine how he feels when you misuse that gift! The apostle Paul thus wrote: “Therefore, since we have these promises [of having an approved relationship with God], beloved ones, let us cleanse ourselves of every defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in God’s fear.” (2 Corinthians 7:1) Smoking does more than simply defile the flesh, polluting one’s body with noxious chemicals; it also defiles one’s spirit, or dominant mental force. Smoking is corrupt, selfish, ungodly.
In spite of all of this, many youths are still tempted to smoke. Why this is so and how a youth can withstand such pressures will be the subject of a future article.
[Picture on page 16]
Before letting yourself get hooked, think of the consequences