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Front Page » November 16, 2006 » Focus on Health » Tobacco users encouraged to learn the dangers of smoking
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Tobacco users encouraged to learn the dangers of smoking


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Smoking contributes to a number of health problems, including heart disease, cancer and reproductive problems. Smokers are encouraged to take steps to stop smoking.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that smoking remains the leading cause of preventable death and has negative health impacts on people at all stages of life. It harms unborn babies, infants, children, adolescents, adults and seniors. Surprisingly, at least a quarter of the United States' population still continues to light up, says the CDC.

Cigarette smoking has decreased over the years by at least 50 percent (nearly 45 percent of the population smoked during the 1960s). But there are those who continue to put themselves at risk despite the warnings of doctors, the government, friends and family. In addition, many smokers subject spouses and children to secondhand smoke, needlessly endangering not only themselves, but their loved ones as well.

Smoking has many health implications. Here are a few to consider, courtesy of the U.S. Surgeon General:

•Cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) in tobacco smoke damage important genes that control the growth of cells, causing them to grow abnormally or to reproduce too rapidly.

•The carcinogen benzoapyrene binds to cells in the airways and major organs of smokers.

•Smoking affects the function of the immune system and may increase the risk for respiratory and other infections.

•Nicotine reaches the brain within 10 seconds after smoke is inhaled. It has been found in every part of the body and in breast milk.

•By smoking around infants, smokers put them at a greater risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

•The body produces antioxidants to help repair damaged cells. Smokers have lower levels of antioxidants in their blood than do nonsmokers.

Cigarette smoking has been linked to many illnesses, including heart disease and stroke. Smoking can cause coronary heart disease, which results from atherosclerosis of the coronary arteries. Toxins in the blood from smoking cigarettes contribute to the development of atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis is a progressive hardening of the arteries caused by the deposit of fatty plaques and the scarring and thickening of the artery wall. Inflammation of the artery wall and the development of blood clots can obstruct blood flow and cause heart attacks or strokes.

Cancer is the second leading cause of death and was among the first diseases linked to smoking, says the surgeon general. Cigarette smoking is responsible for most cases of death in conjunction with cancer. It can cause lung cancer as well as cancers in the mouth, throat and bladder. Men who smoke are more likely to develop lung cancer than their female counterparts - yet the risk is high regardless of age or sex.

Smoking can affect reproduction and fertility in a number of ways. It has been shown that smoking can make it harder for women to get pregnant. Should a woman get pregnant, smoking can cause many problems to the fetus and complicate the pregnancy. Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to have placental abruption, where the placenta prematurely separates from the wall of the uterus. This can lead to preterm delivery, stillbirth or early infant death. In babies who make it to term, smoking can cause low birth weight and birth defects. Yet despite these warnings, only 20 to 25 percent of women quit smoking upon learning they are pregnant, says the CDC.

Nicotine is a very potent chemical. Some argue that it produces a greater physical addiction than heroin or cocaine. Nicotine produces a feeling of euphoria in smokers. Once the drug reaches the brain, it can cause a calming and soothing feeling, which is what draws many people back for more. Yet, smoking can be stopped if an individual is committed to quitting. There are a number of nicotine replacement products available that can help smokers gradually wean off of cigarettes. Just keep in mind that it can take up to 72 hours for full nicotine detoxification to take place in the body - releasing a smoker from the physical withdrawal symptoms. However, the mental dependence could be equally as strong.

Quitting smoking at any stage in a smoking career provides immediate health benefits. An individual's chances for contracting diseases drop and, with time, his or her lungs can gradually heal themselves and function properly again. For help in quitting, visit the American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org, or the American Lung Association at http://www.lungusa.org/.


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