No rational person would knowingly put 250 harmful chemicals in their body, right? You would think so, but that’s exactly what you do when you smoke!
Do you know that tobacco smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals – yes, 7,000 different chemicals. Research so far, shows 250 of them to be extremely harmful to humans while the data is unclear on many of the others. Of the 250 chemicals, 69 are known to cause cancer.
So, maybe you don’t smoke, but do you know someone who does? Perhaps you even live with that person and are exposed to second hand smoke. You may be a parent with children who will one day become adolescents who face peer pressure to smoke. Regardless, this is life-saving information because, even though smoking in Africa is lower than in the developed world and Asia, there is a relatively high smoking prevalence among African youth. The expected population growth and economic development in Africa over the next few decades will cause the smoking habit to rise rapidly if we don’t focus now on prevention.
Nicotine, the most potent chemical in tobacco, is a drug of addiction and is as addictive as heroin and cocaine. That’s why it’s so hard to quit cigarette smoking – it is an addiction.
The health dangers of smoking
Smoking doesn’t harm only the lungs but is harmful to just about every organ in the body and damages your overall health. Even second hand smoke (what you inhale from being around a smoker) has been classified as a carcinogen, a cancer-causing agent. Whether you smoke, chew or sniff tobacco, it is dangerous to your health.
- Smoking is a leading cause of cancer and death from cancer – lung, mouth, throat, larynx, esophagus, bladder, stomach, liver, colon, and blood cancers, are among the many cancers caused by smoking
- Smoking causes chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD) which is responsible for more than 30% of all smoking-related deaths
- Smoking weakens the immune system, increasing the likelihood of lung infections like pneumonia and TB
- Smoking damages blood vessels by thickening and narrowing them causing diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels – heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke
- Smoking makes you more likely to develop diabetes
- Affects bones – Osteoporosis, Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Affects eyes – Macular Degeneration and Cataracts, both can cause blindness
- Smoking causes erectile dysfunction
Women who smoke are at higher risk of Infertility problems, miscarriage, premature babies, small babies, and babies born with cleft lip or palate. The babies are also at greater risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Children exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to develop repeated ear infections, colds, pneumonia and bronchitis. Exposure to smoke over time prevents their lungs from developing normally. If they have asthma, they’re also likely to have more frequent and severe attacks.
The good news in all of this dismal information is that there are immediate and long term benefits if you stop smoking:
- Long term, quitting smoking reduces the risk of cancer and many other diseases, such as heart disease and chronic lung disease caused by smoking.
- Within a few weeks, your heart rate and blood pressure, which are high when smoking slowly begin to return to normal levels and your circulation improves
- Within one year after you stop smoking, your risk for a heart attack drops significantly
- Within 2 to 5 years after stopping smoking, your risk for stroke could fall to about the same as a nonsmoker’s
A word for parents…teach your children the dangers of smoking from a very early age and maintain open communication so that your teenager can come to you with concerns about peer pressure.
The government can do its bit to protect people from tobacco smoke through clean indoor air laws, warning people of the dangers of tobacco use through mass media campaigns and package warnings or even by banning advertising and marketing of tobacco products. Some corporations and employers even offer help to smokers to quit.
If you smoke, only you can make the decision to stop. DECIDE TO STOP NOW – IT COULD SAVE YOUR LIFE AND THOSE OF YOUR LOVED ONES!
A very ill looking man shows up at his local hospital with severe weight loss, yellow eyes, loss of appetite, a distended belly and severe abdominal pain. His worried wife says that he’s been sick for the past one year but has worsened significantly in the last 3 months. After extensive tests, the doctor breaks the news “Sir, you have Liver cancer”.
Did you know that most cancers are caused by genetic changes that occur throughout a person’s lifetime? These genetic changes are triggered by various factors:
- Inherited genes from parents or the natural result of aging
- Exposure to environmental factors such as pollution, ultraviolet light, and radon gas
- Exposure to infectious agents such as Hepatitis B and Human Papilloma virus (HPV)
- Medical treatments such as radiation, chemotherapy, hormone drugs, and drugs that suppress the immune system
- Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, excessive alcohol intake, what kind of food you eat, how much you eat, and whether you exercise, may also influence your risk of developing cancer.
The rate of cancer has doubled in the last 20 years in Africa, with cervical, breast, liver and prostate cancers being most commonly diagnosed cancers. Women in Sub-Saharan Africa have the highest incidence worldwide of cervical cancer deaths. (Click here on previous post on cervical cancer).
Screening tests such as a breast mammogram or cervical pap test can help find cancer at an early stage, before symptoms appear and when it may be easier to treat or cure. By the time symptoms appear, the cancer may have grown and spread making it harder to treat or cure.
What are the signs and symptoms of cancer?
The signs and symptoms of cancer will depend on where the cancer is and the organ affected. If a cancer has spread, signs or symptoms may appear in different parts of the body.
As a cancer grows, it can begin to push on or damage nearby organs, blood vessels, and nerves. This pressure and /or damage causes some of the signs and symptoms of cancer.
General signs and symptoms of cancer include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Skin changes – darker looking skin, yellow skin and eyes, reddened skin, itching
You can make lifestyle changes that can modify some cancer risk factors.
- Eat a better diet, including reducing salt, less fatty foods, more fresh fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods.
- Regular exercise – at least 30 minutes a day
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Avoid tobacco smoke.
- If you drink, limit alcohol
- Practice safe sex (condom use; commitment to one partner)