glenn ellis

Glenn Ellis

*A recent article on smoking revealed that the poor smoke to manage high levels of stress and depression.

Among other things pointed out in the piece was the implications for smokers (many of them looking to benefit from health insurance under Obama Care),as they find out that an insurance policy might be so “Affordable” for them.

You already know smoking causes lung cancer, emphysema, and heart disease, but you’re still lighting up. Over the years of working with people and their health issues, rarely have I encountered a more difficult issue than smoking. Most smokers really want to quit, but it seems the urge and addictive nature of the habit always wins. If only it wasn’t for nicotine! Nicotine has been said to be even more addictive than alcohol, heroin and cocaine, and it can take as few as four cigarettes to develop a lifelong addiction.

Nicotine is the primary drug found in cigarettes that is potentially very addictive. It causes the same physiological changes in brain chemistry that cause an individual to want to use a drug more and more. Nicotine also creates the symptoms of tolerance and withdrawal common in alcohol and other addictive drugs.   The cycle of “euphoric recall” (remembering the pleasant feeling the drug induces) and the physical and psychological discomfort that is caused when the drug is stopped make breaking any addiction very difficult. Understanding this makes me never pass judgment on smokers.

The body responds immediately to the chemical nicotine in the smoke when an individual is smoking a cigarette. There is an immediate increase in blood pressure, increase in heart rate and in the flow of blood from the heart. The arteries begin to narrow. There is carbon monoxide present in smoke which reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. This creates an imbalance between the demand for oxygen by the cells and the amount of oxygen the blood can supply the cells.

Nicotine also produces physical and mood-altering effects in the brain that are both pleasing and calming for many individuals.   This calming, pleasant effect reinforces the continued use of nicotine and then the ensuing dependence. The dependence on nicotine is based on both psychological and physical factors. For instance, the smoker develops certain typical behaviors associated with smoking. Usually, a cigarette is smoked after eating, while drinking a cup of coffee or alcohol, in stressful situations or when another smoker is smoking.

As far back as 1988, The Surgeon General’s Report, “Nicotine Addiction,” concluded that:

  • Cigarettes and other forms of tobacco are addicting.
  • Nicotine is the drug that causes this addiction.
  • Quitting smoking historically has been one of the hardest addictions to break.
  • The characteristics that determine nicotine addiction are similar to those that determine addiction to harder drugs such as heroin and cocaine.

To help you get more motivated to quit, I’ve compiled a list of little known ways your life can go up in smoke if you don’t kick the habit.

From an increased risk of blindness to a faster decline in mental function, here are 10 compelling — and often surprising — reasons to quit, or get some support in helping you to do so:

  • Alzheimer’s Disease: Smoking Speeds Up Mental Decline

In the elderly years, the rate of mental decline is up to five times faster in smokers than in nonsmokers, according to a study of 9,200 men and women over age 65. Smoking likely puts into effect a vicious cycle of artery damage, clotting and increased risk of stroke, causing mental decline.

The bottom line: chronic tobacco use is harmful to the brain and speeds up onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

  • Lupus: Smoking Raises Risk of Autoimmune Disease

Smoking cigarettes raises the risk of developing lupus — but quitting cuts that risk.

Systemic lupus erythematosus — known as lupus — is a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation, pain, and tissue damage throughout the body. Although some people with lupus have mild symptoms, it can become quite severe.

  • An Increased Risk of Impotence

Men concerned about their performance in the bedroom should stop lighting up, suggests a study that linked smoking to a man’s ability to get an erection. The study of nearly 5,000 Chinese men showed that men who smoked more than a pack a day were 60% more likely to suffer erectile dysfunction, compared with men who never smoked cigarettes.

Overall, 15% of past and present smokers had experienced erectile dysfunction.

  • Blindness: Smoking Raises Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Smokers are four times more likely to become blind because of age-related macular degeneration than those who have never smoked. But quitting can lower that risk. While all the risk factors are not fully understood, research has pointed to smoking as one major and modifiable cause.

More than a quarter of all cases of age-related macular degeneration with blindness or visual impairment are attributable to current or past exposure to smoking.

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis: Genetically Vulnerable Smokers Increase Their Risk Even More

People whose genes make them more susceptible to developing rheumatoid arthritis are even more likely to get the disease if they smoke.

In fact, certain genetically vulnerable smokers can be nearly 16 times more likely to develop the disease than nonsmokers without the same genetic profile.

  • Snoring: Even Living With a Smoker Raises Risk

Smoking – or living with a smoker — can cause snoring, according to a study of more than 15,000 men and women.

Habitual snoring, defined as loud and disturbing snoring at least three nights per week, affected 24% of smokers, 20% of ex-smokers, and almost 14% of people who had never smoked. The more people smoked, the more frequently they snored. Even nonsmokers were more likely to snore if they were exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes.

  • Acid Reflux: Heavy Smoking Linked to Heartburn

People who smoke for more than 20 years are 70% more likely to have acid reflux disease than nonsmokers. Roughly one in five people suffer from heartburn or acid reflux, known medically as gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.

  • Breast Cancer: Active Smoking Plays Bigger Role Than Thought

The prevalence of breast cancer among current smokers was 30% higher than the women who had never smoked — regardless of whether the nonsmokers had been exposed to secondhand or passive smoke.

Those at greatest risk: Women who started smoking before age 20, who began smoking at least five years before their first full-term pregnancy, and who had smoked for longer periods of time or smoked 20 or more cigarettes per day.

If those reasons weren’t enough to motivate you to quit smoking, keep this in mind:

  • Smoking is linked to certain colon cancers.
  • Smoking may increase the risk of depression in young people,
  • Some studies have linked smoking to thyroid disease.

Nicotine addiction is a chronic, progressive and often fatal disease. The most common treatment in the effort to assist addicted individuals in smoking cessation is nicotine replacement. This can be administered by using nicotine patches, nicotine lozenges, nicotine nasal sprays, nicotine inhalers or gum.

It’s not easy, but if you’re finally convinced you should quit, you can start right now!

Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one.

Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!

The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.

Glenn Ellis, is a Health Advocacy Communications Specialist. He is the author of Which Doctor?, and Information is the Best Medicine. A health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, nationally and internationally on health related topics, Ellis is an active media contributor on Health Equity and Medical Ethics.

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