ISSUE Every puff reduces life expectancy. Isn't that reason enough to quit smoking?

Mark Twain once said, “Giving up smoking is easy...I've done it hundreds of times.” If you are a smoker, chances are you have tried to quit, again and again. The reason it is so difficult to let go of cigarettes is obvious — nicotine, which is found in cigarette smoke, one of the most addictive substances on the planet. But beyond the addiction, the act of smoking is a familiar habit and a stress-buster. Smokers rely on the cigarette for much more than the chemical relief that a smoke delivers.

However, packed as it is with lethal and harmful substances, the cigarette also delivers death. Smoking causes lung cancer, one of the most deadly cancers. It is also responsible for heart and other lung diseases and an increased risk of strokes, apart from numerous health problems.

The numbers are sobering — tobacco kills more than 5 million people annually and accounts for about 8.8 per cent of all global deaths and 4.2 per cent of disabilities. It accounts for about 30 per cent of all cancers globally. If current trends continue, tobacco will kill more than 8 million people by 2030. Tobacco kills at an average rate of one person every six seconds. Tobacco smoke has 4000 chemicals, of which at least 250 are harmful and more than 50 are known to cause cancer. Life expectancy is reduced by as many as 12 years in case of smokers. Yet, around the world, smokers addictively inhale puff after deadly puff of cigarette smoke.

The health benefits of giving up smoking are manifold, ranging from helping your heart and lungs function efficiently to lowering your blood pressure, increasing your energy levels and cleaning your system of lethal toxins. On giving up smoking, a person will feel better and is likely to live longer. It is never too late to quit, for the body's recovery process starts within 20 minutes of a smoker taking that last puff. Within 12 hours of quitting, a smoker's blood oxygen level will have increased to normal and carbon monoxide levels will have dropped to normal. Within 2 weeks to 3 months, the heart attack risk starts to drop and lung function improves. One year without smoking will mean that the heightened risk of heart disease is approximately half that of a smoker. After 5 years of staying smoke-free the average smoker who smoked one pack of cigarettes a day will have decreased their lung cancer death rate by a half. The risk of developing cancer of the mouth, throat or oesophagus will now be half that of a smoker.

It is not as though many smokers are not aware of such facts. It is not as though public health initiatives, such as warning labels on cigarette packs, have not been taken deter people from smoking. The ban on smoking in public places in India is to reduce the risk to health by second-hand smoke and raise awareness in the public mind to the risks of smoking. However, smokers continue with their habit, inviting ill-health and death.

As you smoke, it is important to remember that second-hand smoke also kills and you are putting your loved ones at risk. There is no safe level of second-hand tobacco smoke. Second-hand smoke kills 600,000 per year, a quarter of them children. Add to this the cost factor of smoking and the increased social acceptance gained from quitting. It is time to take that first step and stamp out the cigarette you are holding in your hand.

Consultant Medical Oncologist, Kidwai Memorial Hospital, Bangalore