The Top Ten Things People Don't Know About Smoking (and Quitting)
Dr. Simon Bryant, MD, CCFP
From Know Smoking an "info-novel" about smoking and quitting, that’s filled with laughter and learning.
1) Nicotine doesn't cause cancer. There are at least 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, 43 of which have been proven to cause cancer. Nicotine is not one of them. Nicotine replacement as gum or patch is safe and effective.
2) Nicotine isn't always addictive. Smoking nicotine is addictive because it is delivered so quickly to your brain. Nicotine from cigarette smoke enters the body through the lungs, "upstream" from the brain, and travels directly to the brain in just 7-10 seconds via the arteries. In contrast, nicotine in a patch enters the body through the skin, slowly, "downstream" from the brain, and is diluted and broken down by the liver before eventually reaching the brain. Patches aren't addictive.
3) "Light" cigarettes are just as harmful as regular ones. "Light" cigarettes have tiny holes just where your fingers hold them. Why? When you inhale, you get full-strength smoke. But when just the end of the filter is inserted into a "smoking machine" to determine the tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide content, the smoke is diluted by air entering through those holes. What's more, people inhale deeper and more frequently after switching from "regular" to "light" cigarettes, in order to keep the same average level of nicotine in their bloodstream.
4) 1 in 2 smokers will die from their habit. (and for every smoker who dies of lung cancer, 5 will die from some other disease) True or false? 20% of all deaths in North America are caused by cigarette smoking. One in two smokers will die from their habit, losing an average of 15 years of life. One third of all deaths in middle age (ages 35-69) are caused by cigarettes. Incredible, but: True. True. True.
5) Smoking doesn't cause just lung cancer. It contributes to back pain, osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), and male impotence. It affects the circulation, "hardening the arteries", and also creates low-level carbon monoxide poisoning. Together, these decrease the delivery of oxygen to every part of the body including discs in the spine. Smokers have more back pain than non-smokers, and heal slower.
6) Nicotine "gum" isn't gum. Nicotine "gum" doesn't work if you chew it like gum. The nicotine is absorbed through the skin inside your mouth, not through your stomach. Too much nicotine is released too quickly and swallowed if the gum is chewed too much. Once in the stomach, the nicotine causes nausea and is then absorbed to the liver where it is broken down.
7) Second-hand smoke causes many diseases in children, including ear infections, asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Smoke in an infant's household quadruples the chances of a SIDS death (sudden infant death syndrome). Each year in the United States second-hand smoke causes an estimated 284 to 364 deaths in children from house fires and lung infections. Also, it causes between 354,000 and 2.2 million ear infections in children, as well as 260,000 to 436,000 episodes of bronchitis and 115,000 to 190,000 episodes of pneumonia. A non-smoking spouse of a regular smoker has a 20% increase in their chances of developing lung cancer, and a 30% increase in their chance of developing heart disease.
8) The actual benefits of quitting. A 42-year old male smoking 20 or more cigarettes a day has about a 1 in 5 chance of dying within 17 years. If they quit, that risk is reduced to 1 in 10.
9) Cravings may not be due to nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine withdrawal is a physical affliction which lasts for two or three weeks. Beyond that period, "cravings" are entirely based on psychological factors: exposure to common "triggers" to smoking, and lack of alternative ways of coping with stressful situations.
10) There are as many ex-smokers alive as there are smokers. In Canada --and the United States is very similar-- 47% of the people who have ever smoked and are still alive haven't smoked in the past six months. That means that for every smoker, there's an ex-smoker.
Knowledge is power.