Each year, May 31 is observed as ‘World no tobacco day'. The day just comes and goes without leaving a palpable impact on the global health scenario. The killer weed tobacco continues to grow, gets cured and rolled into products.
The powerful and purely profit-oriented tobacco industry flourishes at the cost of human lives. More than one billion people — about one-third of the world's population older than 15 — smoke worldwide. Most of the smokers begin smoking before the age of 21. Each day, tens of thousands of teenagers are getting initiated into smoking. The deadly poison is freely available at every nook and corner without restrictions. People enjoy and relax over tobacco, committing a chronic leisurely suicide. Health care costs and productivity loss are massive and staggering.
In cigarette smoke, there are more than 4,000 toxic chemical compounds and over 40 cancer-causing chemicals. Very early on, in a short span of time, nicotine in tobacco builds up a strong addiction. It is as powerful an addictive substance as cocaine or heroin is. Within seconds of lighting a cigarette, nicotine reaches the brain and has its transient salutary effects. When the body gets deprived of nicotine, it fights back with vigour, desperately wanting nicotine. Cravings are similar to hunger pangs — a hunger for nicotine.
Over the last century, around 100 million people perished because of smoking. For this century, the projected figure is a grim one billion tobacco-related deaths. About one in every five deaths is causally related to smoking. The so-called welfare societies have no time left for vital issues to cry over and correct this mass calamity. There is no governmental policy or political will or societal drive and urge to scuttle this scourge. These are all marginalised low profile Bhopal tragedies silently happening all the time.
Smoking or use of tobacco in any form or name is the number one cause of cancer, ‘the emperor all maladies', lung destruction and diseases of the heart and blood vessels, to list a salient few. It accounts for more than one-third of all cancer deaths. Smoking during pregnancy is especially dangerous. If a pregnant woman smokes, the foetus too smokes and gets affected seriously. Women smokers run the risk of infertility. Smoking contributes to impotence in men. It can also lead to blindness.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable illness. Quitting smoking is the single best thing you can do for your health. The long-term health benefits one gains by quitting are innumerable. Most smokers know that tobacco is bad for their health and they want to quit.
More than three-fourths of the current smokers have tried to quit at least once. Quitting smoking is tough. It takes time, planning, patience, effort and energy and a strong motivation. To start with, life may feel a bit empty, without the comforts and rituals of smoking.
There are very many ways and options to quit — counselling, smoking cessation programmes, nicotine replacement therapy and prescription medications. If one has a markedly strong will, quitting cold turkey without the help of other modes is possible. A well planned, ideal and customized combination of options greatly reduces the pain and discomfort of quitting that may prove intense during the initial few days or weeks.
The following guidelines may sound like sermonising and seem to be harsh orders born out of scientific arrogance. But, really, they are health-literacy directed well-meaning guidelines born out of deep concern, extended to unknown and unseen ‘smoking' friends.
For a smoke-free life, you have to face a tough foe, the craving for nicotine. If you falter and slip in your great effort, do not give up. Get right back on track and fight, to ultimately become a successful quitter. Do not let nicotine seduce you again.
Avoid smoking in your home. Declare your home a smoke-free zone. Throw away your ash trays. Save yourself and your family from the toxic effects of second-hand smoke. Your family and friends can play a valuable role in your new life as a non-smoker. Encouragement from loved ones is extremely helpful. They form your biggest cheerleaders. You are taking a momentous step towards good health. Anytime is perfect to snuff out your habit. Be serious and firm in your resolve. Stay motivated and focus all your attention on quitting, giving it the highest priority. Be busy both physically and mentally all the time. Exercise more. Indulge in outdoor activities, enjoying fresh air.
Every smoke-free day is a good day. As a non-smoker, declare victory over addiction and start celebrating your new life.
I often have a vivid and fond dream, imagining a world where the killer shrub is totally replaced by health-promoting vegetations.
(The writer is a former Professor of Medicine, Sri Ramachandra University, Chennai. His email is: firstname.lastname@example.org)