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I will smoke only if I am on fire

March 18, 2012
Weirton Daily Times

"In the United States alone, tobacco kills the equivalent of three jumbo jets full of people crashing every day, with no survivors, 365 days of the year." - Peter Jennings.

I'm sure everyone knows someone who smokes. It could be a spouse, a parent, a friend or even yourself. Several people in my life are smokers, and one has recently had a heart attack.

I am an advocate for the anti-smoking campaign. Do you remember the STAND ads? Loved them. I wish they were still on television. They had orange bracelets that had the word STAND on them. I would love to have one. As I said, I have seen first-hand what smoking can do. It kills. It takes people away from those who love them. I also know what it's like to deal with the effects of those smoking around you. I have an inhaler for respiratory distress. I take a steroid to help make my lungs stronger. I have my own personal machine that helps open the flow of air to my lungs. I wish I was kidding about any of it. I'm not.

In 1985 I lost my grandfather. He had a heart attack. He was a smoker and just 55 years old. I am the only grandchild (out of eight) who probably remembers him, and those memories are few. He missed all of the big events in my life like graduation from high school and college, my wedding and the birth of my son. Maybe if he had listened to the doctors and quit smoking he would still be alive today. He would at the very least have lived beyond the age of 55.

In addition to this concern with smoking, my son and I are asthmatic, so being around smoke of any kind is not good for either of us.

About a week ago someone said to me, "I don't believe that smoke can affect someone who is not smoking. There is no proof." In other words, the second-hand smoke idea is bull. Wrong. I am living proof that smoking can and does affect those around you. I grew up around smokers in some form or another. When I had a respiratory test a few years back, the technician did not believe that I never smoked a cigarette. She even called the doctor's office and told them so. She told me that my lungs are equivalent to that of a smoker. Pretty ironic since I have never in my life touched the things.

If you are like the gentleman who doesn't believe in the dangers of smoking to others or you are someone who has had a heart attack or love someone that has, please read on. If I have already offended you, stop reading here. It may get worse. I am sorry, but the truth hurts sometimes.

First, let's talk about the heart and smoking. More specifically, why you shouldn't.

After a heart attack, stents may be used to open blockages and obstructions in your arteries to increase blood flow. Stents are inserted by typically using a vein in your leg to gain access to the arteries around your heart. Smoking may complicate things. According to the American Heart Association, smoking is the top cause for preventable diseases and death. Smoking contributes to heart disease conditions that stents treat. By not smoking, you remove a top risk factor for heart disease and may prevent the need for stents in the first place.

According to the Mayo Clinic, because stents are used to remove blockages in your arteries, quitting smoking will help make your good results last.

Nicotine is a stimulant, causing the heart to work harder while at rest, which can speed up the heart disease process, clogging the stents and preventing them from functioning normally. Its use has been shown to increase the risk of blood clots, which may clog the stent, causing a heart attack or stroke.

Half of all long-term smokers will die a tobacco-related death. Every 8 seconds, a human life is lost to tobacco use somewhere in the world. That translates to approximately 5 million deaths annually. Male and female smokers lose an average of 13 to 14 years of life.

Tobacco is the single greatest cause of preventable death globally. Tobacco use leads most commonly to diseases affecting the heart and lungs, with smoking being a major risk factor for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer.

Enough said? Let's move on.

Second-hand smoke is a mixture of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette, pipe or cigar and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers. It is involuntarily inhaled, lingers in the air hours after cigarettes have been extinguished and can cause a wide range of adverse health effects, including cancer, respiratory infections and asthma. The risk of heart disease increases by 25 to 30 percent and lung cancer risk by 20 to 30 percent. Second-hand smoke has been estimated to cause 38,000 deaths per year.

The U.S. Surgeon General's report concludes that there is no risk-free level of exposure to second-hand smoke. Even brief exposures to second-hand smoke can cause blood platelets to become stickier, damage the lining of blood vessels, decrease coronary flow velocity reserves and reduce heart rate variability, potentially increasing the risk of heart attack.

According to the EPA, 3,000 nonsmoking adults die of diseases caused by exposure to second-hand smoke every year. Second-hand smoke causes coughing, phlegm, chest discomfort and reduced lung function in nonsmokers.

Some 2 to 5 million U.S. children suffer from asthma. Of these, about 20 percent experience more asthma attacks and more severe attacks than their fellow young asthmatics, due to second-hand smoke.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that nonsmokers exposed to second-hand smoke were 25 percent more likely to have coronary heart diseases compared to nonsmokers not exposed to smoke.

Radioactive lead and polonium are present in low levels in cigarette smoke. Hydrogen cyanide, one of the byproducts in smoke, was used as a genocidal chemical agent during World War II. The smoke from a smoldering cigarette often contains higher concentrations of the toxins found in cigarette smoke than exhaled smoke does.

And people thought I was overreacting about my son not being exposed to smoke. I was adamant when he was an infant, am now and will be for as long as I have control. Neither my husband nor I smoke. So hopefully, he will follow in those footsteps. Most people I know who smoke do so because one or both of their parents do or did at one time. Or, they live with a smoker, which not only makes a person more likely to start smoking, but also makes it more difficult for them to stop.

I'm not here to lecture anyone, and I am sorry if you feel like I have. If you choose to light up, it's your life, but please have respect for those around you. You can choose to live or die, but you don't have the right to affect someone else's health. I get that it's hard to quit, but I want you to remember, if you still choose to light up, there are people who love you. What will your death do to them?

(Letusick, a resident of Rayland, is a copy editor for the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

 
 

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