Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Smoking cigarettes: Mankind’s stupidest act

Tobacco has been used for enjoyment for thousands of years. Native Americans are believed to be the first to use tobacco. At one time, it was a capital offence to use tobacco in England. Over the years the use of tobacco has become so widespread that is can be found in every country.

Around 5.4 million deaths a year are caused by smoking tobacco. This means that for the first eleven years of this century we are in, as many as at least 59,400,000 smokers have died prematurely because they chose to smoke cigarettes. This also means that probably 500 million smokers died in the last century as a direct result of smoking cigarettes. Compare those figures with the number of deaths by war and oppression during the 20th Century—203 million. Compare those figures with the number of people killed each year in traffic accidents—at least one million. Each day, about 13,500 people worldwide die from smoking-related diseases.

Smoking is set to kill 6.5 million people in 2015 and 8.3 million humans in 2030, with the biggest rise in low-and middle-income countries unless smoking is prohibited. An estimated 1.3 billion people are currently smokers worldwide according to the World Health Organization and according to that organization, every 6.5 seconds; a current or former smoker dies as a direct result of that person inhaling nicotine into his or her lungs. Over 443,000 Americans (over 18 percent of all deaths) die because of smoking each year. As many as 650,000 Europeans die each year from tobacco-related diseases. In India, about 900,000 Indians a year die from smoking-related diseases. That's nearly one in 10 of all deaths in India. Half of Indian males use tobacco and it is becoming more popular with younger people. As many as 1.2 million smokers in China each year die because of smoking. That's 2,000 people a day. It is estimated that between 33 percent to 50 percent of all smokers are killed by their habit and on average, they die at least fifteen years earlier than non-smokers do. The use of tobacco is now the primary cause of death around the world. The continued use of tobacco will kill 1 billion people in the 21st century if current smoking trends continue. Despite years of anti-smoking efforts by public health officials, smoking still remains a thriving habit throughout much of the world. About one-fifth of the global population presently smokes tobacco, and the number of smokers is expected to rise in coming decades, especially in the developing world. While rates of smoking have declined in the developed world in the past few decades, they have continued to climb in less developed countries.

These statistics are frightening but even though smokers are aware of the risks, they continue to smoke cigarettes. If they want to die a horrible death and submit their bodies to an early death, that is their right but unfortunately, secondhand smoke kills about 50,000 non-smokers each year in the USA alone even though steps have been taken to prohibit smoking in enclosed areas.

Unfortunately, smoking is linked to an increased risk of contracting and dying from tuberculosis. Researchers from a variety of disciplines at the University of California, San Francisco, developed mathematical models to predict smoking's expected impact on the future of tuberculosis. Their model examined smoking-related tuberculosis cases for the next four decades. The statistics are grim: Between 2010 and 2050, more than 18 million new cases of tuberculosis and in excess of 40 million deaths will be due to the respiratory infection as a result of smoking tobacco. The link between smoking and the risk of developing tuberculosis is so strong that public health officials have identified smoking cessation as a key goal of any viable program to eradicate tuberculosis.

Nicotine is an alkaloid substance found in cigarettes. It is responsible for the mood-altering effects of smoking. Nicotine, derived from tobacco plants, is responsible for aiding in addiction to cigarettes and for this reason it can be extremely harmful to the body. Nicotine is carried directly into the lungs where it then crosses through the lining of the lungs and into the blood vessels and then the nicotine travels to other areas of the body, including the brain and nervous system.

Within the respiratory system, nicotine can wreak havoc. The drug irritates the system and causes inflammation. The nicotine also causes constriction of the blood vessels, making air exchange more difficult in the lungs. This, in turn, can cause difficulty breathing. Those with asthma may find that the effects of their condition are exacerbated by smoking cigarettes. Smoking can also cause chronic bronchitis.

Continued cigarette use can lead to emphysema, which can develop into chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Emphysema occurs when tobacco smoke damages the air sacs within the lungs. Because the air sacs cease to function properly, it becomes more difficult for the oxygen to enter the bloodstream. Those with emphysema experience chronic coughing, shortness of breath, breathing difficulties, fatigue and weight loss, among other symptoms.

I suffer from congested heart failure brought about by having excess fluid in my body even though I don’t smoke. I too experience, chronic coughing, shortness of breath (on occasion) and fatigue so I have some idea of what these smokers who are suffering from emphysema are experiencing. Shortness of breath is an extremely frightening experience because it feels like you are suffocating.

Continued cigarette use can also lead to lung cancer. Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of death around the world. The majority of these cancer cases are caused by smoking. Cigarette smoke, which contains nicotine in addition to a plethora of other carcinogens, can promote the growth of tumors within the lungs.

Nicotine binds to an area of the brain known as the adrenal medulla, which increases the flow of adrenaline. This in turn causes increased blood pressure, heart rate and respiration, and these conditions exacerbate existing heart and blood pressure problems. Nicotine can contribute to sleep disorders. It stimulates the nervous system and when taken at nighttime it ensures that the user is alert and awake rather than deep in restorative sleep.

Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 compounds, many of which are toxic and damage human cells. Included in these compounds are acetone, used in nail polish remover; arsenic, often found in insecticides; benzene, a cancer-causing agent; ammonia, used in dry cleaning; and cadmium, which causes cancer of the liver, kidney and brain damage. Tar is the main cause of lung and throat cancer in smokers. It stains teeth and skin, and damages the fine hairs in the lungs making breathing difficult and reducing their protective effect against infection. Around 70 per cent of the tar in cigarettes is deposited in a smoker’s lungs. The tar damages airways and causes them to narrow, making it harder for air to pass in and out of the lungs.

Today with near-universal awareness of the health risks, a billion adults around the world still choose to smoke cigarettes. Why would anyone in his or her right mind want to put all that poison in their bodies?

Nicotine by itself is not carcinogenic, (cancer forming) but it is highly addictive. After the inhalation of smoke, nicotine reaches the brain within 20 seconds and its effects are felt within a minute. Nicotine is five to ten times more potent than cocaine or morphine in producing behavioral and psychological effects associated with addiction, including feelings of pleasure, according to a report produced by the U.K.’s Royal College of Physicians in 2007. Nicotine dependence is reflected in the difficulty associated with trying to quit smoking. A 2006 report by the U.K. Office for National Statistics found that the majority of smokers (around 70 per cent) want to quit, yet the success rate remains very low. Fewer than 20 per cent of people who embark on a course of treatment to quit smoking succeed in abstaining for as long as a year.

Over five years, researchers out of the Harvard School of Public Health tracked 787 people attempting to quit smoking in three groups: people using a nicotine replacement therapy (in the form of patches, gum, inhaler or nasal spray) with counseling, those using a nicotine replacement without counseling and finally-those using nothing at all. Results revealed that people who used nicotine patches weren't more effective at quitting smoking in the long term, compared to those who quit without a nicotine replacement. What the data showed was that people who quit smoking using nicotine patches had just as high a return rate to smoking as people who quit cold turkey. It's conceivable that those who quit cold turkey were less addicted to nicotine (they could quit without aids), so you would expect their return to smoking rate would be lower since they got off cigarettes with less effort.

The point of nicotine patches is to treat the withdrawal symptoms that former smokers experience for the first six months of quitting, which dissipate after that time period. They are not meant to work long term. You need to arm yourself with multiple defenses against smoking in order to remove the desire to smoke forever. Unfortunately, people often get sporadic counseling, and use nicotine therapies on their own, usually for less than the recommended minimum of six weeks.

Steps have been taken to reduce smoking. Governments raise taxes on cigarettes. They pass laws prohibiting anyone from smoking in enclosed public places. I have a neighbour whose wife has told him that if he wants to smoke, he can do it in their garage. This he does, even when the temperature inside the garage is below the freezing mark. The Ontario government (and I am sure other governments also) have weaned tobacco farmers into growing other kinds of crops instead of tobacco crops. Cigarettes in Ontario cannot be sold to people under nineteen years of age and no cigarettes can be visible in stores that sell them. Drug stores in Ontario no longer sell cigarettes and all packages have warnings on them along with scary pictures of badly infected lungs. There are also many smoke-free work places where people will not suffer from secondhand smoke.

There is only one way to solve this problem. That is to outlaw smoking altogether. But alas, that isn’t as easy as you think. The tobacco companies are among the world’s most sophisticated and successful marketers. They spend billions of dollars to promote their deadly products, prevent governments from protecting their people and mislead tobacco users and potential tobacco users regardless of the impact on public health. The tobacco companies recognize the impact of the steps undertaken to curtail the smoking of their cigarettes and actively fight against these efforts because they curb their sales. Time and time again they have used their resources to kill these policies, water them down when they cannot stop them altogether, and undermine their enforcement when they are passed. Their efforts take many forms.

For example, they distort the science of the health effects of tobacco use and secondhand smoke. One of them was promoting illicit tobacco trade (smuggling). They challenge government timelines for implementing laws, influencing legislators with contributions and using public relations efforts claiming to be responsible corporations to mask their harmful behavior, just to name a few of the forms they undertake.

In 2000, WHO released a report detailing the tobacco industry’s tactics in obstructing tobacco control policy processes. The report found that the tobacco companies spent vast amounts of money “diverting attention from the public health issues raised by tobacco use, attempting to reduce budgets for the scientific and policy activities carried out by WHO, pitting other UN agencies against WHO, seeking to foster views that WHO’s tobacco control program was a ‘First World’ agenda carried out at the expense of the developing world, distorting the results of important scientific studies on tobacco, and discrediting WHO as an institution.” A 2002 study exposed internal industry documents showing that in 1997, Philip Morris hired public relations firm Mongoven, Biscoe & Duchin to lobby against the FCTC to weaken its regulations and discredit the WHO officials behind the effort.

This begs the question; “Is the tobacco industry really a corporation that has the best interests of human beings as a paramount factor in their operation?” The answer is obvious. The tobacco industry only has its own interest at heart even though their interests are killing millions of people. Consider the following information.

In August 2006, U.S. District Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled that the tobacco companies use of the terms “light” and “low-tar” is false and misleading, and subsequently banned them from using these terms. The major tobacco companies then argued that they should still be allowed to continue to use the terms outside the U.S.

In March 2007, Judge Kessler ruled, “The Court sees no justification, either legal or ethical, for concluding that Congress intended to allow defendants to continue to tell the rest of the world that ‘low tar/light’ cigarettes are less harmful to health when they are prohibited from making such fraudulent misrepresentation to the American public.” Nonetheless, the tobacco companies continue to use these misleading terms both in the U.S. and where not specifically banned elsewhere.

Three weeks after Mexico ratified the FCTC, Philip Morris and BAT conducted secret negotiations with the Ministry of Health that led to an agreement that prevented the government from raising tobacco taxes if the corporations funded certain unrelated health programs. This agreement led to the defeat of numerous tobacco control regulations, including tax increases and advertising bans called for by the treaty. When meaningful policies were introduced, policymakers friendly to the tobacco industry argued that the proposals would lead to cuts for these other health programs. After international uproar about the agreement, Mexico finally refused to renew it in 2006, and the Congress successfully passed annual tobacco tax increases through 2009.

In 2004, tobacco manufacturers, including BAT, spent 7 million in Kenya Shillings (about USD $87,000) to take Members of Parliament on a luxurious “workshop” to Mombasa to discuss and build support for amendments to weaken the Tobacco Products Control Bill, which would “provide a legal framework for the manufacture, sale, promotion an use of tobacco products,” including banning outdoor tobacco advertisements. Although a bill requiring large health warnings and banning public smoking passed, BAT then complained that the regulations were untenable because of the company’s lack of involvement in the process and sued the government to delay enforcement.

In April 2006, Peru’s Congress passed legislation to implement the global tobacco treaty – a giant step forward for tobacco control in Peru. Then, the tobacco industry secured a seat for the National Society of Industries on Peru’s newly-formed Multi-sector Commission, which was created to implement and monitor tobacco control efforts. In violation of FCTC Article, the National Society of Industries was represented on the Commission by two BAT employees. Only after national and international outcry, the Minister of Health removed the BAT employees.

In 2001, to counter efforts to raise tobacco taxes in the Czech Republic, Philip Morris released a report that touted the “positive effects” that early mortality due to smoking had on the country’s economy. Although Philip Morris issued a public apology after its action was exposed, it was discovered that they paid for similar studies in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia.

According to the industry’s internal documents, Philip Morris executives reported, in 1987,that “Philip Morris and the industry are positively impacting the government decisions of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the UAE through the creative use of market specific studies, position papers, well briefed distributors who lobby, media owners and consultants.”

Industry documents show that, since the 1970s, tobacco companies actively sought out scientists in Germany to bolster the industry’s credibility, oppose tobacco control scientists and improve their image with the German government and German government officials. Further, in Germany, tobacco companies influenced science by suppressing research results that could hurt their industry, diluting “genuine” anti-tobacco science with pro-tobacco science, producing research on other possible causes of illness rather than smoking, concealing scientists’ ties to industry, and manipulating research presentations or speeches.

Tobacco companies also seek to develop relationships with journalists, to create positive media coverage of the tobacco industry by the tone and content of their articles. Tobacco companies have sponsored media symposia, training, and offered all-expenses paid trips to promote their company and “discuss” tobacco issues.

The industry has argued that it has, in fact, saved the US medical system $2 billion in nursing home costs, as smokers die prematurely and need less long-term care. Since people die earlier from the cigarettes, the medical system saved several billion dollars. The mouthpieces for the tobacco also say that the tobacco industry helps save the government money so they should be allowed to continue with their business.

Those arguments are as shallow as the brains of the lawyers presenting their clients. If we were to follow that kind of reasoning, then the automobile industry could claim that it would be better to build cars in which they are unsafe so that people will die earlier and thereby make it possible that the government won’t have to pay old age pensions to millions of people after they reach the age of sixty-five.

Finally, the lawyers speaking for the tobacco companies state that everyone has the freedom to make his or her own choice. As lawyers for the incriminated tobacco companies point out, “The decision to smoke is an individual choice. People make the decision to smoke, not the tobacco industry.”

Let me quote Scrooge in A Christmas Carol. Bah! Humbug!

We as a concerned community on earth can’t stop the fools who choose to smoke tobacco and bring about their early deaths but we should be able to put an end to the firms that are killing them.

It is ironic when you think of it. If illicit drugs were sold in the same way that deadly cigarettes are sold, the governments and the police would crack down on those that sell illicit drugs like a hammer against an anvil. But because tobacco is not considered an illicit drug, the politicians are too gutless to fight the tobacco industry.

Name me one politician anywhere who has publicly stated that the manufacturing of tobacco products should be made illegal.

I believe that the only way to stop this evil practice is for the governments to pass a law that legislates than in five-years time, all tobacco manufacturing firms are to be shut down and anyone who manufactures any form of tobacco product in which it is inhaled, should be sent to prison for a minimum of ten years.

We as human beings should have a vivid sense of the splendor of human life —something that is clearly lacking in the minds of those who would thrust cigarettes in the mouths of other human beings just to make a buck. Cigarette smoking is really quite unnecessary and the industry that promotes it should be swept away as if a tsunami hit it.

There will be screaming and weeping by those in the industry but I would rather listen to them bleating because of their woes than listen to the families weeping because of the loss of their loved ones who died from smoking cigarettes.

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