Smoking Hurts You and Your Family
We have seen many lives negatively affected by tobacco. Fortunately, it’s never too late to quit, as with the case of the following patient:
A 57-year-old man was admitted to the hospital for shortness of breath and later diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease due to smoking. Tobacco cessation counseling was recommended. “I wish I’d quit before I had to see you,” he joked. After some small talk, he said, “I want to quit smoking for my grandkids. I knew something was wrong when I ran out of breath playing with them. My whole life, I couldn’t wait to be Papa. Isn’t that why you work so hard? To retire, do some hobbies, and spoil your grandchildren. My daughter has begged me to quit for years. I told her she was a health nut, and that smoking really doesn’t hurt anyone. When I mentioned my great uncle who smoked every day until his death at the age of 90 years, she quickly named the other four tobacco-using relatives who died before the age of 65 years. When I noticed my oldest grandson coughing in my house, I blamed it on our cat and found Whiskers a new home. [sigh] This disease will remind me not to make excuses. Also, I want to leave a little money to help my grandsons go to college, rather than burning my money, literally. It’s past time. I’m ready to quit and set a good example.”
With this new diagnosis, Papa was at a reachable, teachable moment. We started him on a tobacco cessation medication before he left the hospital, and placed him in contact with 1-800 QUIT NOW, the free tobacco helpline. The medication reduced his cravings and the helpline taught him healthy ways to manage his cravings. Because he always lit up when working on cars in his garage, he had to place this hobby on hold until he made it through the toughest cravings. He also started taking short walks in the morning instead of having coffee and cigarettes. Even with a few setbacks, he was able to stay positive and quit for good. Eliminating his grandson’s exposure to smoke was the best gift he could give.
Dangers of Environmental Tobacco Smoke to Children
According to the Surgeon General’s Reports, there is no safe level of exposure to Environmental Tobacco Smoke (ETS). Cigarette smoke contains more than 4000 chemicals and compounds. Hundreds are toxic, and at least 69 cause cancer. Tobacco kills more than 400,000 people each year in the United States. This is more than AIDS, car accidents, alcohol, homicides, illegal drugs, and suicides combined.
Continued exposure to environmental tobacco smoke cause chronic allergies and breathing problems in children.
Effects of ETS in children include increased rates of respiratory illness, middle-ear infections, tonsillectomy, cough, asthma and asthma exacerbations, hospitalizations, colic, dental disease, behavioral effects/irritability, and sudden infant death syndrome. In addition, ETS-exposed children are twice as likely to miss six or more school days per year than are unexposed children. Children also represent a disproportionate share of fire victims; smoking materials are the most common ignition source of fatal residential fires.
Research has also documented the association between smoking in the home and persistently high levels of tobacco toxins well beyond the period of active smoking. Smoking indoors today exposes people to tobacco toxins within that space in the future. The term “third-hand” smoke refers to what one smells when a smoker gets in an elevator after going outside for a cigarette or the smell in a hotel room where people were smoking. Children are especially susceptible to third-hand smoke exposure because they breathe near and touch contaminated surfaces. Even low levels of tobacco smoke markers are carcinogenic and have been associated with cognitive deficits in children.
Cigarettes are designed for addiction. They are now more attractive and addictive than ever, delivering nicotine more quickly from the lungs to the heart and brain. Adolescents’ bodies are more sensitive to nicotine, and adolescents are more easily addicted than adults.
And children who are exposed to smoke from the adults who care for them are more likely to experiment with tobacco and develop an addiction to tobacco as they get older. This information helps explain why approximately 1000 teenagers become tobacco companies’ replacement smokers every day.
The monetary cost of tobacco products is considerable. A family in which one member smokes one pack per day would spend more than $1600 on cigarettes each year. These expenditures can reduce a family’s ability to meet essential needs. Among low-income families, food insecurity is more likely if a family member uses tobacco.
In addition, every Oklahoma household on average pays $556 each year in state and federal taxes to cover smoking-related costs, whether or not they smoke.
Oklahoma’s annual health care costs created by smoking are $1.16 billion, including $218 million in Medicaid costs. Even in the face of voluminous studies and federal reports compiled by health experts, there are challenges to passing smoke-free laws. It is not just a matter of letting tobacco users exercise their own free will. The latest Report of the Surgeon General clearly shows why tobacco use is everyone’s business.
To become involved in your community, consider joining the Tobacco Free Coalition for Tulsa County, a team of organizations and volunteers networking together to advocate for a tobacco-free healthy community. The Tobacco-Free Coalition has been created for the purpose of promoting policies and programs at the state, local, and federal levels for reducing tobacco use and its impact on the health and economic well being of the community.
The coalition endorses the following goals for the purpose of protecting the public: Eliminate secondhand smoke exposure, prevent youth tobacco initiation, promote tobacco cessation services like 1-800 QUIT NOW, and reduce tobacco industry influences.
The coalition has helped increase the number of tobacco-free schools and businesses, and has secured funding for implementation of state and local tobacco prevention and education programs. Contact Vanessa Hall-Harper, email@example.com or 918-595-4226 if you are interested in joining the Tobacco Free Coalition for Tulsa County.
The only proven strategy for reducing the risk of tobacco-related disease and death is to never use tobacco and, if you do, quit. Like the grandfather in our story, quitting at any age is not too late, but the sooner the better. When smokers quit, the risk for a heart attack drops sharply after just 1 year; stroke risk can fall to about the same as a nonsmoker’s after 2 – 5 years; risks for cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half after 5 years; and the risk for dying of lung cancer drops by half after 10 years. Smokers often make several attempts before they are able to quit, but new strategies for cessation, including medications, can double the chances of quitting. If you use tobacco, talk to your health professional or call 1-800-QUIT NOW to start a plan to quit.
When we help Oklahomans quit tobacco use and prevent our children from ever starting, we all benefit.