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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Cigarette smoking: Easy path to ill-health, death


EVERY one knows that smoking hurts, it causes sickness, disability and death. But the harmful effects of smoking may be worse than you really imagine because smoking damages nearly every organ in the human body. Little wonder Mr. Tunji Buhari of the Environmental Rights Action, (ERA), and Friends of the Earth, lamented that, “Tobacco or cigarette smoking is the only known medication that kills half of its users when used as prescribed by the manufactures. It kills over 10,000 persons per day and 4.5 million people yearly.”

As he further disclosed, “Sadly, 70 per cent of this figure are from developing countries, including our own nation, Nigeria and if this trend continues, this figure is anticipated to rise to 10 million a year by 2030.” The history of tobacco is as old as the world itself because almost all parts of the earth has knowledge of tobacco usage and therefore had smoked one form of cigarette or narcotics even in dark ages.

However, modern attention on the manufacturing of this killer sticks came to light during the slave trade era, when the western world found in Africa, cheap and strong labour which they bought from local greedy African slave merchants, who sold their brethren to the white man, to be used as slaves. These slaves in their millions were wickedly exported to the Americas in special slave ships under very dehumanizing conditions, where most of them worked in tobacco plantations on arrival to the new world, as America was then called, especially in the city of Virginia, United States, to produce raw materials for the production of cigarettes and other dangerous narcotics.
Unfortunately, several years after the abolition of slave trade and slavery, which claimed the lives of many innocent Africans, the tobacco plantations which those slaves nourished for their wicked white masters continued to produce killer narcotics for blacks in developing world as some western nations have banned smoking, having discovered that cigarettes smoking is dangerous to health. In Nigeria, commercial growing of tobacco started in 1934 when British American Tobacco,(BAT), decided to source tobacco leaf locally in preparation for the establishment of a cigarette plant in 1937. BAT has been part owners of the moribund Nigeria Tobacco Company, (NTC).

Tobacco cultivation first started in Ogbomosho, Iseyin and Ago Are, all in the present day Oyo State, before spreading to the northern part of the country. After the collapse of the Nigeria Tobacco Company, there was another spirited attempt by BAT to relaunch cigarette production in Nigeria. Therefore on September 24, 2001 at an event tagged Nigerian Investment Summit held at Park lane Hotel in London, BAT signed a memorandum of understanding with the Federal Government to set up US$150 million ultra modern cigarette manufacturing plant in Ibadan, Oyo State. Since then, BAT and other cigarette plants have been producing cigarettes to millions of Nigerians who savour these deadly sticks on daily basis. It is estimated that 18 billion cigarettes are sold yearly in Nigeria, with one in every five young Nigerian a smoker, while women smokers have raised to10-fold during the 1990s – 2000. In the United States, acknowledged as one of the world’s highest consumer of cigarettes, 400, 000 Americans die every year from smoking and that is 1,200 per day. Also one every five deaths in this God’s own country was the result of smoking.
Despite the fact that cigarettes contains over 4,000 different chemicals that make them deadly, with 60 per cent of these chemical being carcinogens, which means they can cause cancer, people still puff this sticks as if their lives depended on them. Investigation shows that people smoke for different reasons and which some of them are ready to justify, no matter how long you spend to alert them on the inherent dangers associated with cigarettes or narcotics. Generally, people said they smoke to make them look mature, older and respected and this reason was mostly advanced by teenage smokers.

Others smoke to relax their tensed nerves. Still some see it as status conferrer to set them apart or make them higher than their peers, while some claimed they do it to keep their weight down. And for another set, they come from family of smokers and therefore embraced smoking as family business which they must continue. Again, cigarettes makers spend millions of dollars on adverts, making smoking look cool, elegant, and highly successful, as they usually use music, film, television or even sports stars, and very beautiful, sexy and erotic ladies to send their outwardly innocent but inwardly deadly adverts, publicity and promotion campaigns across their target audience all over the world. The dangerous thing about smoking is that once people get hooked, it is very hard to stop and this is called addiction. And addiction on the other hand is caused by the nicotine contained in cigarettes.

According to Dr.Stephen Oladele of Ola Ayoka Memorial Conval (Health) Clinic, Ogudu, Lagos, “Nicotine stimulates the brain, giving it a sense of euphoria. It raises alertness and lifts a person’s mood, but as time goes on, it takes more nicotine to have this effect. When a person is slowing down or trying to quit smoking, nicotine levels in the blood stream drops but withdrawal is never easy.” However, whatever was gained as the result of the decision by a smoker to quit is lost the moment he or she starts smoking again which gets the nicotine level in the blood stream going higher once again, like a diabetic patient who allowed too much carbohydrates into his system, thereby shooting up his or her sugar level.

Dr. Oladele further said that, “Smoking primarily causes cancer, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory ailment, and harms reproduction.” On a broader spectrum, smoking has been linked to cancers of the lungs, mouth, throat, larynx (voice box), esophagus, pancreas, kidney and bladder. Smoking could also lead to cancer of the stomach, cervix and acute myeloid leukemia or cancer of the blood. Smoking it was disclosed causes more cases of lung cancer as smokers are about 20 times more likely to develop lung cancer than non- smokers. Smoking causes 90 per cent of lung cancer deaths in men and 80 per cent in women. Smokers are four times likely to die from coronary heart diseases than non- smokers. It causes atherosclerosis, or hardening and narrowing of your arteries which may lead to strokes. Smokers could suffer from abdominal aortic aneurysms, a dangerous weakening and ballooning of the major arteries near your stomach. If you smoke during childhood and teenage years, it slows your lung growth and causes your lungs to decline at a younger age. Smoking is related to chronic coughing, wheezing and asthma among children, teens and adults. It also causes half of all cases of adult periodontitis, a serious gum infection that can cause pain and tooth loss. Dr Oladele equally stated that, “Smoking seriously harms reproduction as it causes lower fertility in women, induces placenta previa and placenta abruption which are conditions that can make the baby to be born too early and then be sick. The nicotine in cigarettes smoke reduces the amount of oxygen reaching the fetus and could also retard baby’s growth in the womb resulting to low birth weight.”

Further investigation showed that smokers are less healthy than nonsmokers, have increased risk of cataracts, and low sexual drive. They are linked with inability of wounds to heal fast, and respiratory problems, with women smokers’ bones losing density very fast after attaining menopauses. One crazy revelation about smoking is that while smokers risk their lives by inhaling nicotine into their lungs and other vital internal organs, nonsmokers who stay near smokers as they puff their stick are also, unfortunately, at risk of tobacco death. Non smokers who innocently inhale smoke from smokers engage in second-hand smoking equally called environmental tobacco smoke or passive smoking, because some quantity of nicotine also enter their system and could damage some organs and cause sickness to unfortunate non smokers. According to WHO report, “It has been confirmed that for every eight smokers who die, one innocent bystander also dies from second-hand smoke and if one is exposed to second-hand smoke for about 120 minutes, then the person must have smoked the equivalent of four sticks of cigarettes.”

Surprisingly, despite these frightening health hazards associated with smoking, people still smoke as if without it they will die the next moment. This writer had interesting interaction with some smokers to find out why in the first place they decided to smoke cigarettes, what they gain from smoking, the health hazards they experienced and when they hope to finally drop this deadly habit. Mr. Oyetunde Olusoji, a young Interior Decorator disclosed that he started smoking cigarette in 1998 due to peer group influence. “Honestly, I still don’t understand why I joined my friends who smoke to do the same. I just wanted to belong to the big boys group and to be seen as one of the movers and shakers of the school environment in which I found myself. One thing led to another and before I knew it, I got hooked into this deadly act and I don’t know how to remove myself from it.” Mr. Olusoji stated that sometimes, certain conditions stimulate the need to smoke. For instance, “If Iam alone and feel bored, I will have the urge to smoke and also whenever I drink beer, only God could stop me from smoking because once Iam taking beer, the next thing that comes to my mind is to smoke and I must satisfy that urge. Interestingly, Mr. Olusoji is aware of the health hazards linked to smoking and even postulated that 60-70 per cent of chest and lung pains come from smoking. However, he argued that since some people developed cancer of the lungs without even touching a stick of cigarette, he no longer bothers himself on the dangers inherent in smoking as long as his urge is satisfied each time the feeling to smoke envelopes him, fully aware that one day, he will die of one illness or the other. As he further disclosed, “One negative effect of smoking on me which I regret so much is the social stigma it hangs on me as some of my girlfriends refused to kiss me because my mouth always smelled of cigarettes. My girlfriends at a stage, individually, asked me to choose between them and cigarette and when I chose my stick over all of them, I knew that my liberation from smoking was still very far. If you smoke, you can hardly get responsible girlfriends because any girl that accepted to befriend you as a smoker if you investigate well, equally has bad habit which when you discover and want to make noise over it, she will blackmail you with your smoking act and you will have no option than to keep tolerating each other’s vices.”

But in a very interesting swift, Mr. Olusoji dramatically decided to quit smoking in 2006 only to resume in2009. According to him, he returned to smoking when he encountered serious challenges which mounted pressure on him, thereby tensing him up. So till today, he is still helplessly addicted to nicotine, hoping that one day God will grant him the grace to quit what he tagged “this destructive habit that robbed me of all my responsible girlfriends, leaving me with the bad ones as I don’t expect any reasonable girl to date a smoker.”

A former chronic smoker, Pastor James Okoro, founder and general overseer of the Word Foundation Assembly, Lagos, who by what he identified as the special grace of God and his will power, discipline and determination quit smoking in 1997, a habit he acquired in 1983 said that, “There is an evil spirit in cigarettes that induces people to smoke. The day that unclean spirit of nicotine addiction left me, I knew that I have been liberated. The very bad aspect of smoking is that every smoker will advance reasons to justify his action. Some light a stick each time they wanted to go the toilet as thy claim it helps them to empty their bowels. To others, it simply gives them joy and any attempt to stop smoking takes the joy in their lives away which is ploy by the devil to get them permanently hooked to smoking. Others will tell you that whenever they drink beer, they must smoke so that the beer will go down their throat very well.”

Pastor Okoro said that smokers should be pitied because quitting cigarette smoking is not an easy task. But he counseled that because of the health hazards linked to smoking which he experienced while he smoked, people should halt smoking without further delay. Those who want to stop must involve God in the process as no smoker can automatically quit smoking with power of the flesh because of cigarette’s addictive nature. Before he stopped smoking, he first bid farewell to alcohol which stimulates him to smoke, cut off from his friends who smoked to avoid any temptation, and fully declared himself a born again Christian before all his friends and neighbours, preaching fiercely against smoking. He said that after few weeks, when the urge came up, he looked for a very secret place to hide and smoke so that people he had already told that he was now born again will not see him smoking. However, when he found that there was no hiding place for the gold fish, he used will power and prayers to suppress the urge and subsequently became freed from nicotine addiction.

He advised those who want stop smoking to reject suggestion by some people to go for an alternative to smoking like kola nut, bitter kola, and alcohol, sweets among others, disclosing that if one quits smoking to embrace kola nut for instance, he could again be addicted to kola nut which contains caffeine that is equally harmful if taken constantly in large quantity. “Once you have prayed to God to direct the Holy Spirit to help you stop smoking, let your yes be yes and no be no because anybody who said no to something and could not maintain his no, is a fool. And since I don’t want to be classified as a fool, I totally rejected smoking, and the urge disappeared after two weeks. Up till today, I have never gone back to smoking. Smoking is almost like a curse for an addicted smoker can even go and wake up his worst enemy for cigarettes, once the urge sets in.”

For Mr. Rowland Chukwuka, an Immigration expert, he started smoking in 1996 when he was still in secondary school, stopped in1997 only to go back in the year 2000. “I started smoking through the influence of friends in school. I felt that they are high up there and what they were doing by smoking was very good, and I wanted to belong to the big boys club. Again in 2003, I quit smoking only to return to this bad habit in 2007. It is not as if one deliberately went back, but it is only God Almighty that can help me stop smoking by taking care of me whenever Iam under pressure which actually triggers my quest for cigarettes. I assured my wife on several occasions that I was quitting, only to disappoint her by embracing smoking again.”

Mr. Chukwuka admitted like others that he was fully aware of the hazards linked to narcotics but said that addiction is a very dangerous thing for once you are hooked to a habit, it becomes very difficult to pull out. “Before I temporarily stopped smoking, I experienced terrible headache, which was near a migraine, my dress sense nose-dived as I found myself unkempt and could go without bath for days, stinking even to myself of congealed smoke. I was excommunicated in some quarters and I utterly appeared near irresponsible.”

Lamenting further on the plight of addiction, he said, “It is a big shame to even think that as a member of the Red Cross Society, I still indulge in this awful habit. I hope to one day develop the will power to quit smoking, if not for any other reason, for my children’s future, so that I will not die young and make them fatherless at tender ages. Non smokers should never think of embracing it because all those things you see on cigarettes adverts are false life styles, tailored to get you hooked to smoking. They should obey the warning by the Federal Ministry of Health that cigarettes smokers are liable to die young, for once diagnosed of cancer, then, your days are really numbered on this earth.”

A journalist, who simply called himself Jones, said that he has been smoking for the past 20 years. According to him, he left secondary school, came to Lagos to stay with his big uncles and then look for job. It happened that most of his uncles were smokers and he innocently grew up with them to believe that smoking was a good way of life and has been puffing since that regrettable informal initiation into the club of smokers by his uncles, which could be described as a navigational error. As he recounted, “I started smoking due to peer group pressure as I tried to belong. In those days in question, if you don’t smoke, womanize or drink what then makes you a good big boy. I craved to belong and even when I entered higher school in 1986/87, I continued smoking to maintain the big boy status on campus. I smoke whenever Iam tensed up or under pressure, if Iam drinking beer or when Iam lonely, driving alone back home after work. I saw smoking as part of growing up as those I emulated never told me that it was a dangerous habit until I became addicted because I did not realize what I was doing to myself in the first place and when to call it quits.”

Jones said that though he has not been clinically diagnosed of any ailment linked to tobacco smoking, “I knew that some serious pains I do feel at my back were induced by smoking because if I leave smoking for some time, the pains disappear only to return when I resume.” He disclosed that the warning on cigarettes packs meant to serve as deterrent has no effect on him, for if it did, he would have stopped smoking long time ago. “So the best I could do is to stop it before it stops me for if I don’t stop smoking, cigarette will stop me. A situation where hide my mouth from my wife even after using mouhfreshner so that she would not decode that I smoked is certainly not the best.”

Another journalist, who pleaded anonymity, told this writer that he derailed into this dangerous zone of nicotine consumption since 1975, made a failed attempt to stop in 1996 but resumed almost immediately and had not considered making another move to quit since that botched attempt. He stated that his smoking habit has caused him breathing difficulties, lack of energy to do strenuous jobs meant for young men, and has seriously lowered his libido or sex drive. Again, he disclosed that smoking made him cough always as he said that there is what is called smokers cough, which is recurrent whether one has cough or not. He experienced pains in his chest, lungs and had fractured relationships with women because of smoking.

This journalist, who is a prolific writer, condemned attitude of Africans to smokers when he blasted, “I don’t see why Africans claim to be holier than the Pope, as smoking in most parts of Africa is still regarded as sin with serious moral burden. Those who smoke in some parts of Africa are viewed as direct candidates to hell fire, who require no visas to enter that terrible place meant for Satan and his servants. In Europe where I grew up, people were concerned only with the health implications of nicotine to smokers and not whether they will go to hell or heaven. In Italy, ashtrays were placed on tables in classrooms and both students and teachers were free to express themselves by smoking if the urge was instigated.”

He disclosed that he is chain smoker who buys cigarettes in rolls and could smoke up to four packs in a day. Speaking further, this articulate journalist who from the way he puffed as our interaction interview progressed has actually mastered the act of smoking yelled again, “Don’t condemn or sympathize with smokers, feel for them and hope that they change because you may be suffering from other forms of addictions, more dangerous than cigarette. It is very difficult to quit smoking because nicotine is involved which is addictive. In my case, I once commenced fasting all in the struggle to stop smoking. During the fasting, whereas I did not eat food, I couldn’t resist the urge to add more nicotine into my system, and therefore I broke the fasting by smoking some sticks. It is indeed better not to start smoking than to think of the gruesome road that leads to quitting this habit.”

Asked if he is not afraid of Federal Ministry of Health’s warning that smokers are liable to die young, he exploded again, “That is outright hypocrisy. How can the government that granted license to these tobacco firms to operate in Nigeria turn around to discourage people from buying the products of companies that pay huge taxes to them? That is why nobody is taking the warning on cigarettes packs serious. If government is honest, let them revoke those firms’ operating licenses and ban them from producing cigarettes in Nigeria, because government posture only amounts to giving with the right hand, only to retrieve with the left hand, which is day light robbery.”

On how to stop the inherent dangers in smoking, he went philosophical; “Every age has its own poison. There was time when alcohol was in vogue, and then tobacco came on board. At a point in history, people took designers drugs like ecstasy and Chinese pill. Then Indian hemp or Marijuana became status conferral on musicians, actors, dancers among others sometimes ago. Today, they take cocaine, heroine, and tobacco. If only for medical implication, I support the clamor to ban cigarette smoking. But again, people will find other poisons to fill their system with but I believe that one day, cigarette will go out of fashion.”If cigarettes smokers themselves have testified that smoking is dangerous, what is the government doing to ensure that its citizens don’t die young as the result of smoking. Interestingly, the Federal Government instituted a case in court against three tobacco firms some years ago, demanding 22 billion British pounds for glamorizing cigarettes smoking through deceptive adverts targeted to lure youths into smoking. Though the case is yet to be decided, it is a step in the right direction but we had expected the Federal Government to consider the health implications of tobacco in its entirety before granting license to tobacco firms to start producing this dangerous product in our country just because government wanted funds from these companies.

Again, the compulsory inscription by cigarette makers on their packs, warning on the side effects of smoking is also encouraging, only that it is one thing to warn somebody to desist from doing something, but the onus to adhere to the warning lies on the reader. It now becomes a typical case of leading the horse to the river but not forcing it to drink. Worthy of mention and emulation by other states was the decision by the Federal Capital Territory, (FCT), Abuja which banned smoking in public places on June 1, 2008, to ensure safer air and also prevent second-hand smokers from suffering innocently while the real smokers burn their hearts.

However, the silence maintained by the Federal Government on taking long lasting decision on how to control smoking or ban it out rightly is not in the interest of the nation. The Federal Government should take a cue from the governments of South Africa and Kenya who summoned courage to enact laws regulating smoking in their countries. In South Africa, a law banning smoking in public places and cigarette adverts was enacted, making the people to be conscious of their environment and health for there are penalties for offenders. Also in Kenya, there is a standing law which banned smoking in public places, especially in the capital city, Nairobi. Though the law became effective for sometimes before it slacked, it was a step in the right direction and we expect the Nigerian government to come out with a holistic direction that will make smoking in public places a thing of the past. In fact, against the background that tobacco firms target youths who are the leaders of tomorrow, should make the Federal Government react fast and safeguard the teeming population of our youths, before these glamorous tobacco adverts lure them into smoking today, only to render them useless by one tobacco related disease or the order tomorrow, when we shall look up to the youths to take over from the old and aging leaders.

For smokers who want to quit, physicians developed and monitored website, suggested the following five steps towards final disengagement from cigarette smoking. The are, Get Ready, Get Support, Develop Strategies, Ask Doctor about Prescription Medications and Prevent Relapse. In getting ready, the smoker should outline reasons for quitting, keep diary on when he/she smokes and what triggers it on, research on available information in your area about quitting, set date for quitting and on this date, get rid of ashtrays, lighters and all tobacco products.In getting support, ask health provider for advice on quitting, sign up for a smoking cessation programmme, talk to friends and family for support and keep journal of your thoughts and feelings during this challenging process.

Developing strategies should make the person learn yoga, meditation, deep breathing, start physical exercises, talk to counselors and research into nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) options. In asking doctor about medications, consider medication that can help reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms and improve your chance of success, research your medication and other withdrawal treatment options. Finally according to these distinguished doctors, in preventing relapse, keep busy. When the urge comes, take one deep breath at a time until it passes. If you relapse, don’t give up; remember many people who quit had to try several times before succeeding.