Ask the Pharmacist

Q. Can you give me some incentives as to why I should quit smoking? It is a habit that I actually enjoy. It gives me pleasure and has done so thus far without any repercussions. I am fully aware that smoking increases my risk of lung cancer and heart disease but I have smoked for 30 plus years and, knock on wood, I have not been afflicted with either.

A. There are many people who very well know the risks of smoking (lung cancer and heart disease to name just two), yet they still make the choice to smoke. We are taught these health risks in health class, both in public and high school, yet for reasons that may be unfathomable to others, some choose to start the habit anyways. Regardless of the initial reason, many find themselves years later wondering why they ever started in the first place and in turn they may well find out just how difficult it can be to quit. Maybe you are like the individuals in this question and enjoy smoking so much that you have no intention of quitting, despite the ramifications. It is important to attempt (yes, it often takes several tries before being successful) to quit the

habit when you are ready and doing it for yourself (ie. not because your loved ones are nagging at you, although they do so out of love). Rather than discuss smoking cessation methods, let’s discuss some smoking statistics that you may not be aware of in the hopes that it might motivate you to quit. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States (based on demographics, one can assume that the statistics would not be too dissimilar in Canada),

* Smoking causes nearly 1 in 5 deaths (WOW!!! 20% of deaths are due to smoking)

* Smoking causes more deaths annually than the combined number of deaths from HIV, drug use, alcohol use, vehicle accidents and firearms!

* Smoking has caused more premature deaths, by a factor of 10, than ALL the wars fought in by the United States (another WOW!!)

* Smoking causes around 90% of all lung cancer deaths (not a surprise)

* Smoking causes around 80% of all chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) deaths (also not a surprise)

* Smoking also increases the risk of death from all causes in both men and women (meaning, we’re not just talking about cancer here, if you smoke you are more likely to die, period)

Now maybe this does not “scare” you. You might be thinking that this won’t happen to you OR that you will be much older when it does happen OR we are all going to die someday anyways. Sure, you might escape the lung cancer or heart attack risks, but the statistics are not in your favour for that happening. Sure, you might be much older if any ill effects happen and yes we are all mortal and will die eventually. But do you not wish your life to be a long, healthy one and to die of more natural causes?

What about the risk of developing those diseases that destroy your quality of life but don’t kill you. Most people are aware that smoking increases many of these risks but let’s look at the raw statistics anyways; 

* Smokers are 2 to 4 times more likely to acquire heart disease or stroke
* Smokers are about 25 times more likely to acquire lung cancer
* Smokers miss more days at work and have increased health care visits due to a poorer overall health
* Smoking can also cause other types of cancers (bladder, blood, cervix, colon, esophagus, kidney, larynx, liver, throat, tongue, pancreas, stomach, trachea, bronchus)

Smoking also has other affects on the body that some may not link together.

* Infertility
* Impotence (erectile dysfunction)
* Bone health
* Oral health (teeth and gums)
* Eye health (cataracts and age-related macular degeneration)
* Diabetes (30 to 40% more risk for smokers)
* Rheumatoid arthritis
* Inflammation and lower immune function

There are some senior citizens that remain physically active all of their lives and this is becoming more and more common. You may see them walking, jogging, golfing, hiking, biking, skiing, swimming etc. When they divulge their age, people are amazed that they could be 70 or 80 or 90 or…. On the other hand, many people know someone that is receiving oxygen therapy 24/7. If they leave their home, they do so attached to a tank and tubing. Many cannot even walk down the driveway or a small parking lot without getting winded and out of breath. Almost entirely, these people were, or still are, smokers. As most of you know or have heard before, second-hand smoke can also be the culprit for an increased risk for all of the above ailments. So consider quitting the habit for a loved one before they start to suffer from breathing difficulties or have a major heart event.

If you are thinking why quit now? Can it make a difference if I have smoked for 30 years already? The answer is YES! Your heart attack risk lowers dramatically after you have stopped smoking for 1 year. Your stroke risk will be similar to a non-smoker within 2 to 5 years of quitting. And your risk for lung cancer will be reduced by half in 10 years while many other cancer types are lowered by 50% within 5 years.

So, I challenge you to think about how you want to live the balance of your life. Having the ability to walk, swim, ski and enjoy time with grandchildren and even great grandchildren OR choose to risk having your time cut short (or not, but perhaps with a quality of life that you certainly would never have ever wished for) for a habit you do not wish to give up today. The choice is yours!