Senators urge research into possible upside to cigarette smoking
WEST MONROE, La. Wayne Hendrix is convinced that cigarette smoking is good for his health, and two U.S. senators want federal research into his theory.
Hendrix, who suffers from the potentially deadly disease scleroderma, has taken up smoking, then quit several times. He said the effects of the disease are lessened when he's smoking, then get much worse when he quits.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu has sent a letter to the National Institutes of Health, asking for research into the matter. Sen. John Breaux said he plans to do the same.
"There is the distinct possibility that some element within a cigarette works to fight scleroderma, and if NIH could discover what element that is, then people, like Wayne, could fight their scleroderma without causing harm to their lungs," Landrieu wrote.
Hendrix has had scleroderma, which hardens skin and organs, for about 14 years. When the disease spread from his skin to his internal organs, his lungs degenerated and his digestive system shut down. Doctors told him to prepare for death.
Hendrix took up smoking, and the effects of scleroderma began to recede. When he stopped smoking, the disease hit him hard again. He improved when he resumed smoking. He now smokes about 30 cigarettes a day, and his condition has stabilized.
Hendrix's doctor, Richard Cavell, chief of internal medicine at LSU Medical Center at Monroe, agrees that smoking has coincided with improvements in Hendrix's condition.
Dr. Phong Nguyen, a lung specialist at Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax County, Va., also agrees that Hendrix has improved since he resumed smoking. Nguyen said research into a connection between smoking and scleroderma will answer questions.
"The only way to get to the bottom of it is to study it. There is something in it," he said.