Smoking and tobacco use

Diseases caused by smoking kill more than 430,000 people in the United States each year. Even with anti- smoking campaigns and medical disclaimers in place, many people continue to smoke or start smoking every year. According to the American Cancer Society, 90 percent of new smokers are children and teenagers, in many cases, replacing the smokers who quit or died prematurely from a smoking-related disease.

Smokers not only have increased risk of lung disease, including lung cancer and emphysema, but also have increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and oral cancer.

Facts about smoking and teens:

Consider the latest statistics available from the American Lung Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):
  • Each day, more than 6,000 persons (younger than 18 years old) smoke their first cigarette. More than 3,000 of these will become regular smokers every day.
  • Approximately one-third of these children smokers will eventually die of smoking-related illnesses.
  • At least 4.5 million adolescents (ages 12 to 17 years) are current smokers.
  • Seventy percent of adolescent smokers wished they had never started smoking in the first place.
  • Young people vastly underestimate the addictive tendency of nicotine. Of daily smokers who think they will not smoke in five years, nearly 75 percent are still smoking five and six years later.
  • Among 12th graders in 1998, 22.4 percent smoked cigarettes daily.
  • A 1997 survey reported that current cigar use among high school students was 22 percent.
  • A 1997 survey identified that 9.3 percent of all high school students used smokeless tobacco on at least one of the 30 days before the survey.

How does smoking affect the cardiovascular system?

In posing health risks on the body's cardiovascular system, smoking:

  • Causes immediate and long-term increases in blood pressure
  • Causes immediate and long-term increases in heart rate
  • Reduces cardiac output and coronary blood flow
  • Reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the body's tissues
  • Changes the properties of blood vessels and blood cells - allowing cholesterol and other fatty substances to build up (accumulate)
  • Contributes to higher blood pressure and increased risk of blood clot formation
  • Damages blood vessels
  • Doubles the risk of ischemic stroke (reduced blood flow to the brain)

In addition, smoking has been associated with depression and psychological distress.

What are the risks of secondhand smoke?

The American Heart Association estimates indicate that approximately 37,000 to 40,000 people die each year from heart and blood vessel disease caused by secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is smoke that is exhaled by smokers and smoke emitted from the burning end of a lit cigarette, cigar, or pipe.

Both direct and indirect smoking exposure poses significant health hazards to pregnant women, infants, and young children. Children and infants exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to experience ear infections and asthma, and are at a higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than children and infants without the same exposure.

The following common symptoms may be associated with exposure to secondhand smoke. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Coughing
  • Excessive phlegm (mucus in the airways) 
  • Chest discomfort from lung irritation
  • Chest pain, which may indicate heart disease

The symptoms of secondhand smoke may resemble other medical conditions and problems. Always consult your adolescent's physician for a diagnosis.

Smoking and cardiovascular disease:

Smoking, in addition to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity, and diabetes tops the list as a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and is responsible for claiming the lives of more than 430,000 Americans each year. In fact, smoking has been classified as the single most preventable cause of premature death in the United States.

According to the American Heart Association, eliminating smoking not only reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, but also reduces the risk of repeat heart attacks and death by heart disease by 50 percent. Research also indicates that smoking cessation is crucial in the management of many contributors to heart attack, including atherosclerosis, thrombosis, coronary artery disease and cardiac arrhythmias.

The importance of smoking cessation:

Quitting smoking is both a mental and a physical undertaking. Mentally, you should be ready and relatively stress-free. Physically, you need to commit to exercising daily and getting plenty of sleep. A person trying to quit must overcome two obstacles: a physical addition to nicotine and a habit. The American Academy of Otolaryngology and the American Lung Association offer the following tips to help users quit using tobacco products:

  • Think about why you want to quit
  • Pick a stress-free time to quit
  • Ask for support and encouragement from family and friends
  • Start doing some exercise or activity each day to relieve stress and improve your health
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Join a smoking cessation program, or other support group

In some cases, smokers benefit from nicotine replacement products to help break their smoking habit. Nicotine replacement products continue to give smokers nicotine to meet their nicotine craving. However, the benefit of nicotine replacement products is the elimination of tars and poisonous gases that cigarettes emit. Pregnant or nursing women and people with other medical conditions should consult with their physician before using any nicotine replacement products. Some examples of nicotine replacement products include:

  • Nicotine chewing gum - An over-the-counter chewing gum that releases small amounts of nicotine to help reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms./li>
  • Nicotine patch - An over-the-counter patch applied to the upper body once a day that releases a steady dosage of nicotine to help reduce the urge to smoke.
  • Nicotine inhaler or nasal spray - A prescription nicotine replacement product that releases nicotine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms (requires a physician's approval before use).

A non-nicotine option to quit smoking: Zyban

Zyban, a non-nicotine alternative to help people stop smoking, was approved in 1996 by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Offered in pill form to smokers who want to quit, Zyban (Bupropion HCI), has been shown to alter mood transmitters in the brain that are linked to addiction. Zyban must be prescribed by a physician and may not be appropriate for everyone. Consult your physician for more information.

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