Thursday, August 11, 2005

Smoking Causes More Than Lung Cancer

With the death of Peter Jennings (a smoker) and the recent diagnosis of Dana Reeve (a non-smoker), smoking and lung cancer is the news du jour. Whenever the evils of smoking are brought up, it's lung cancer, lung cancer, lung cancer. But lung cancer is the least of a smoker's worries.

My cousin watched a news program on the effect of smoking on lungs and was so disgusted with the tarry hardness of a smoker's lung that he never started. I too was not inclined to try after watching my wheezy, blue-tinged, pill popping, stroke-ridden incontinent grandmother deteriorate over a long time and then die far too young, given her genetics, all because of smoking. One thing that always puzzled me about her was why she looked so fat yet had stick legs and arms. Since I was a bit of a library junkie as a kid/teen/adult, I decided one boring afternoon to find out. Like everyone else, I just thought smoking made you wheeze, get bronchitis a bit more often, and get lung cancer. What I didn't know was that it pops all those little air sacs in your lungs, causing them to become useless and requiring the survivors to do more work. With less surface area to exchange oxygen and carbon dioxide between the passing blood and the air sacs, the heart has to beat harder and faster to try and make up the shortfall. Eventually the heart grows larger with all this extra work, and the rib cage expands to accommodate its greater size. Bigger rib cage equals fat-looking torso. That's emphysema. It got so bad in her that she'd turn blue around the mouth whenever she smoked, and of course you could always hear her breathing.

Smoking also (in no particular order) causes early fatal heart attacks in women, heart attacks in men, high blood pressure, multiple strokes, wrinkles, bad breath, loss of sense of smell (roses can be a bit overpowering to newbie non-smokers), chronic bronchitis, chronic cough, COPD, susceptibility to lung infections, asthma, sleep apnea, dementia (all those strokes), ulcers, a whole host of cancers...I could go on, but whew I'm out of breath!

The thing is the media doesn't report on the long-term total body effects of smoking, just lung cancer. So when people only hear about a disease that takes you quickly when you're "old," they shrug their shoulders and keep on puffing. They want to enjoy life; for them smoking equals enjoyment, and lung cancer is at most 6 months of unpleasantness in the distant future. No thought of suffering for years and years and years from emphysema, COPD, multiple strokes, ulcers, and on and on and on, enters their heads. But if the media told the whole story, I think teens would think twice before starting. As me and my cousin found out, disgusting pictures and watching emphysema in action is a much more effective deterrent because then you realise it ain't 6 months of unpleasantness, it's decades.

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