Passing the cancer stick
By COURTNEY KERRIGAN
Everyone has been affected by smoking at one time or another. For some, smoking is a necessity for surviving the drudgery of everyday life. For others, it is simply an annoyance to be dealt with, or maybe even embraced only in social situations. And for a few, smoking is an evil presence that stole away loved ones through lung cancer, heart disease or other smoking-related diseases.
These days, one can't make it through junior high without hearing that smoking is deadly. Teachers and special anti-smoking programs throw statistics at children as young as fourth grade. They tell horror stories of individuals whose lives were changed drastically from the effects of smoking, hoping that they will scare kids into never trying their first cigarette. Public Service Announcements are played during commercial breaks of popular TV shows, advertising that one doesn't have to smoke to be "cool."
Strangely enough, although the Notre Dame student body is considered to be one of the more intelligent ones in the United States, many continue to light up before classes, between classes, after classes, during study breaks and even before bed, even though most are well aware of the consequences. Why does this happen? One word: Addiction.
The Surgeon General's report of 1994 confirmed that the majority of adult smokers were addicted to nicotine by age 20. The amount of cigarettes smoked usually increases in the few years immediately after leaving the constraints of high school. Those who do not smoke prior to high school graduation are unlikely to pick the up the habit in college.
People who began smoking in high school, and have continued in college, most likely need to smoke for the calming and stimulating effect of nicotine. Nurses Kara Horvath, Diane Schlatterbeck and Pat Willkom of the Notre Dame Health Center said that nicotine is a stimulant, meaning it increases the heart rate and blood pressure, and causes blood vessel dilation and constriction.
Longer-term smoking can also increase metabolism, cause hypertension (high blood pressure), stained teeth, premature wrinkles, low birth weights and black lung. It is clear that the disadvantages of smoking greatly outweigh the advantages.
When one inhales cigarette smoke, the aerosol reaches the small airways and the alveoli of the lung. The nicotine is quickly absorbed, and within minutes the blood concentration of nicotine rises to a maximum and the smoker can feel the calming affect .
However, an addiction develops when a tolerance to nicotine forms such that the calming and stimulating effects of smoking become minimal, and higher doses are needed to obtain the desired effect, which is more commonly known as "a buzz." This is apparent when mood, behavior, thought and physiologic function require the continued presence of nicotine to enable a person to feel normal.
Unfortunately, prolonged addiction to nicotine not only makes it extremely difficult to quit without a program (such as the patch or a counseling group), but also has been linked to many diseases. Smoking greatly increases a person's chances of developing coronary heart disease, obstructive pulmonary disease, stroke, cancers of the lung, larynx, esophagus, mouth and bladder, and it contributes to the development of cancers of the cervix, pancreas and kidney.
In a large study conducted by the American Cancer Society, smokers were:
u 22 times as likely to die of lung cancer,
u 27 times as likely to die of lip, oral or pharyngeal cancer,
u 10 times as likely to die of chronic obstructive lung disease and cancer of the larynx,
u eight times as likely to die of esophageal cancer and
u twice as likely to die of heart disease and stroke.
In 1990, it was determined that 20 percent of all deaths in the United States could be attributed to smoking. In 1985 health journalist Jacob Sullum determined that 87 percent of people dying of lung cancer had been long-time smokers during their lives. Most cancers caused by cigarette smoke are at increased rates among regular cigar smokers as well.
Sadly, smokers are not the only ones affected by their deadly habit. Those around them are also put at risk when they light up. Secondhand smoke contains oxides of nitrogen, nicotine, carbon monoxide and a number of carcinogens.
Environmental tobacco smoke pollutes the air and has invited public concern as an environmental and a health hazard. It has been the cause of lung cancer and respiratory disease in children (a population that should not have to be subjected to such infliction). In the 1980s, health researchers Joseph DiFranza and Robert Lew showed approximately 70 percent of children in the U.S. were exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes by at least one adult smoker. Secondhand smoke is a serious risk factor for heart disease in adults, and causes between 2,500 and 8,400 lung cancer deaths per year in the U.S. It causes a total of 50,000 deaths per year in the U.S., and as a result of this the 1992 Environmental Protection Agency added secondhand smoke/passive smoke (a combined term that includes exhalation of smokers and the smoke that is released directly from the burning end of the cigarette) to its class A list of carcinogens. According to health expert Allen Brandt, this has subjected public smoking to a range of federal regulatory requirements.
Thus, the effects of smoking are seen as far-reaching. Some people have parents who smoke. Some have best friends who smoke. Some had grandparents who smoked. Some are smokers themselves.
Many people have made an effort to educate the public about the effects of smoking, if not to clean up the air and make public places a little more pleasant, than to save a few lives. For those who smoke, it is very easy to let important information concerning consequences of smoking go in one ear and out the other. But one must remember: The one who could be most affected by smoking may not actually be the smoker — it could be the smoker's husband, wife, children or best friend. Smoking affects everyone.
All Scene Stories for Monday, September 13, 1999