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     Volume 6 Issue 13 | April 6, 2007 |

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Straight Talk

Clearing the Air

I just realised the other day that the sole surviving ashtray in my smoke free household had finally gone missing. Not that I particularly minded. In fact it was probably a subconscious act by me to purposely lose the ashtray. I think I only ever kept it for a couple of my friends who are smokers but then realised that it was almost pointless as I sent them into the garden to smoke anyway. Completely selfishly of course, I gave them the ashtray so as not to find cigarette stubs in my patio the next morning. I know that all you smokers out there are thinking that I am an extremely cruel person but what do you expect from a diehard anti smoking activist!

My earliest recollections of cigarettes were that they smelt disgusting. My father used to smoke and I remember trying various ways of disposing of his cigarettes. Let me tell you it did not go down well when he came back and found them mysteriously gone or all of the cigarettes in his packet bent out of shape. But of course all you have to do is go down to the local shop and hey presto; you have another packet in its place. By the time I was in university, I turned into one of those people smokers find excessively irritating, trying to talk them out of smoking and quoting statistics left right and centre. One thing I learned is that unless someone wants to quit, there is no way anyone else can make them stop. Even before I knew my husband, he got glared at when he would start smoking in the non smoking section of the university cafeteria. Luckily for both of us, he took the decision to stop smoking one day and joined the ranks of ex-smokers almost overnight.

Recently I saw an ad on television which actually made me feel ill. They showed a group of people sitting in a pub smoking and as you watched them chatting and laughing there was congealed fat oozing from the cigarettes! It was really quite disturbing. What people tend to brush away as a useless piece of information is that smoking is a major factor in heart disease, stroke and chronic lung disease. Research shows that it can cause cancer of the lungs, larynx, oesophagus, mouth, and bladder, and contributes to cancer of the cervix, pancreas, and kidneys. At least a quarter of all deaths from heart diseases and about three-quarters of the world's chronic bronchitis are related to smoking. In other words, smoking is the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death. It is quite shocking to realise that about a third of the male adult global population smokes and that smoking related-diseases kill one in 10 adults worldwide. Also if you compare the lungs of a non smoker and a long term smoker, the difference is undeniable. The lungs of a smoker turn black with the deposit of tar that builds up in their lungs with every puff they take.

Now how many cigarettes do you think are sold on a daily basis? Yes, I am going to quote some annoying facts at you and the answer is a mind boggling 15 billion cigarettes or 10 million every minute! It is very likely that many people around the world are still oblivious to the effects of smoking, especially in developing countries where there is a lack of education and awareness. Previously, smoking cigarettes symbolised sophistication and even sex appeal instead of heart diseases and lung cancer and the billions of dollars spent on cigarette advertisements lulled people into thinking that if it could be advertised then it could not really be that bad. But these days in many countries, with the ban on advertising cigarettes on television or showing people smoking on billboards alongside major campaigns to make people aware of the negative impact of smoking have paid off somewhat. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), smoking is increasing in the developing world but decreasing in developed nations. Among Americans, smoking rates went down by almost 50% in three decades (from the mid-1960s to mid- 90s) falling to 23% of adults by 1997. In the developing world, tobacco consumption is rising by 3.4% per year (and that includes Bangladesh).

When you happen to go out in the evening and spend time in close proximity to smokers, as a non smoker it is quite unpleasant to find that at the end of the evening your hair and clothes smell of cigarette smoke. But more importantly you have spent the evening inhaling second hand smoke. Although many people make derisory comments about the impact of passive smoking, it has been proven that there is an increased chance of lung cancer for those who have had prolonged exposure to second hand smoke. What is very sad is that this kind of passive smoking “is a cause of bronchitis, pneumonia, coughing and wheezing, asthma attacks, middle ear infection, cot death, and possibly cardiovascular and neurobiological impairment in children”. Also maternal smoking during pregnancy can have certain health effects for their child, including low birth weight and reduced lung function. It seems a rather high price to pay for someone else's “habit”.

Even if we did not talk about the medical effects of smoking, there are other factors in play. Excessive smoking can lead to a reduced sense of smell and taste. It seems that many ex-smokers were amazed at how much more acute their sense of smell and taste had become once they had given up smoking. It can even affect your appearance by discolouring your teeth and nails making them yellow. Prolonged smoking can also make skin look tired and sallow. But when you do team this up with the medical evidence, I really cannot see any positive sides to smoking. But then again I am talking from the point of view of someone who has never been a smoker.

Nowadays most airlines are non smoking especially on long haul fights, and many offices have a no smoking policy with designated places for smokers. This is being extended in July to make London a smoke free zone. This means that restaurants, pubs, shopping malls, etc will become no smoking zones. This does not mean that people will not be allowed to smoke outside only in enclosed public places. As you can imagine this is something I am definitely looking forward to and feel that it is a step in the right direction.

I thought I would leave you with one more statistic, every eight seconds someone dies from tobacco use which means that within the time it took you to read this column, over 20 people have just died...

*Statistic from 2002 by the World Health Organisation

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