No butts, please Smoking needs to go
I met Lalith, an upcoming young business entrepreneur, at a social get-together recently. What he told me that evening is worthwhile repeating.
At the end of December last year, he came home from a party, went up two flights of stairs, sat down, and could barely catch his breath. Having been a smoker for almost five years, this kind of exhaustion had happened to him before.
That particular night the winded feeling was no worse than it had ever been. The hideous odour of stale cigarettes on his clothes, hands, and hair was no worse than it had ever been either. Still, he could remember lying in bed that night thinking that he was finally fed up with being a smoker.
The next day, he made a minor goal for himself. He would make it through the day without a cigarette, but he wouldn't harbour any unrealistic expectations of quitting forever. He made it through that day and decided to continue with it. He was reluctant to admit, even after the first few days, that he had really quit smoking. His smoking friends would look at him with disappointment and say, "You're not really quitting are you?."
"Oh, no," he would respond, fearful of upsetting them, "I'm just not going to smoke for a few days."
It wasn't just the fear of disappointing them which kept him from openly committing to the non-smoking life. It was more the fear of failing at the task while everybody watched. If he just kept plans to himself, and did not inform anyone that he was actually quitting, then if he did fail, at least no one would know about it.
That was a foolish plan: it was foolish of him to try to keep this change to himself because he would have been depriving himself of heaps of praise from everyone he tells. Surely this praise will run out after a while, but for the time being, he can at least get a few words of praise every time he announces his progress to his friends.
Today, after four months, Lalith is still a non-smoker. He honestly maintains that he misses something about smoking. Still he doesn't think he is overwhelmingly drawn to re-entering the smoking world (yet). The nice things about quitting smoking have, at least so far, outweighed the drawbacks. He can breathe much better, he has more energy, he smells better, he spends less money and in general he feels much healthier. Best of all is all the praise he gets from non-smokers for making it through each passing week with his lungs intact.
Many of us who are interested in the public health arena have been fighting for decades to help create a worldwide society free of the disease and premature death associated with tobacco use.
This effort has forced us to confront not only large, wealthy, deceitful industries, but also the nature of tobacco itself. Despite many public health efforts to promote a tobacco-free life, tobacco remains popular virtually everywhere in the world.
The public health struggle, however, is a mere shadow compared with the inner struggles of tobacco users themselves. They must deal not only with an addiction to nicotine, but with the other powerful and seductive effects of tobacco on their bodies and minds. Make no mistake: this is a struggle to the death.
According to the President of the Sri Lanka Cancer Society A.L.M. Fernando, tobacco kills 4 million people a year, one death every 8 seconds and is estimated to kill 8.4 million people by the year 2020.
The numbers are so large that we can hardly envision them. Sri Lanka cigarette consumption is nearly 6 billion cigarettes a year and its per capita consumption is close to 318 cigarettes. Spending over Rs.20 billion on cigarettes is money spent to kill 1/2 the people who consume it.
Nearly forty years ago, a scientist named Rachel Carson wrote a book called Silent Spring that served as a wake-up call about the hazards we humans were posing to our environment. It became the herald for a new movement that had the potential to preserve our world. That night, after speaking with Lalith, I was asking myself - What if the active ingredient in cigarettes was arsenic?
Would it alter the public perception of cigarettes? Would anyone want to be in a home, work place or car with undetermined amounts of arsenic in the air?
It can be easily documented that nicotine, a nerve poison, is three time more toxic than arsenic. Any toxicology reference book in any public library will confirm this fact.
Yet, the non-addicted public does not know what nicotine is. The purveyors of this poison spend millions to portray it as an inert ingredient the use of which is in the same category as eating too much red meat or not getting enough exercise.
But aside from the impact on your wallet, smoking can also have costly and debilitating effects on your health. Consider the following:
* People who smoke are at increased risk for heart attacks, strokes, pulmonary problems, such as bronchitis and emphysema, and many forms of cancer, including lung, mouth, throat, larynx, oesophagus, pancreas, bladder, uterine and some forms of leukaemia.
* Smoking can reduce fertility and cause impotence in men and early menopause in women.
* Smoking contributes to cataract formation and macular degeneration, a progressive eye disease that is the leading cause of blindness. While many smokers recognize the benefits of being smoke-free, doing so can be difficult. The average smoker tries four to seven times before successfully quitting for good.
A few days ago, I was telling a friend of mine, a heavy smoker, that smoking should not be allowed anywhere where it can potentially harm another without their consent. He asked " Aren't you limiting our rights as smokers?"
I explained to him that disputes evolve when one's pursuits of "pleasure" conflicts with those of someone else. Such is the case with smoking - second-hand smoke just isn't healthy for anyone else.
Smoking does nothing beneficial for those who smoke.
It may, however, make one appear glamorous and "cool" to those with whom one associates, which is why a lot of youths start smoking. And while smoking might make people feel "relaxed" and more mellow, I simply feel that it is rude for one to smoke in the presence of others without their consent.
I told my friend, "If you want to smoke, fine - just smoke in the privacy of your own home, not outside of it. And don't go crying to the Government to pick up your health care costs if you get develop cancer, asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, heart disease, or other maladies."
What upsets me most is the blatant disregard and ignorance of smokers in the presence of others. If I see someone lighting up, it shouldn't be my responsibility to ask him to extinguish his cigarette. Rather, it should be his responsibility to ask the people around him if it is okay for him to smoke. If he does not want to bother, then he should seek a private place to smoke.