Tobacco smoking is probably the leading cause of preventable ill-health in industrialized countries and a serious public health problem in developing countries.

Cigarette smoke contains toxic substances for the organism, such as nicotine (responsible for physical dependence and cardiovascular disorders, and cancer),
carbon monoxide (the same carbon monoxide that comes out of cars, also responsible for circulatory disorders), tars (substances that cause cancer),
and other substances (irritants of the respiratory and digestive tract). After one hour in a closed environment with tobacco smoke, harmful substances equivalent to having smoked five cigarettes are found in the blood, urine, saliva of a non-smoker, as well as in the amniotic fluid of a pregnant woman.

What is tobacco?

Tobacco, Nicohana tabacun, is a plant belonging to the Solanaceae family, native to the Antillean region in America. The European conquerors who brought it back to the old continent and then dispersed it all over the planet never thought that half a century later, in a single year, 5,392,000,000,000,000 cigarettes would be consumed worldwide.

It is said that approximately 400 years ago, when a servant of Sir Walter Raleigh witnessed for the first time how smoke was coming out of his master's mouth, he threw a bucket of water at him, rightly thinking that where there was smoke there should be fire. Time would show how effectively (metaphorically speaking), tobacco burns the entrails.

What does a tobacco cigarette contain?

So far, scientists have identified about 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, 50 of which are carcinogens. Since the mid-1950s, medical researchers began to report on the health risks of smoking. Today in the medical field it is confidently asserted that smoking represents the most widely documented cause of disease that has been studied in the history of biomedical research.

Some of this research highlights that smoking causes, among other things, cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and sudden death, cancers of the mouth (tongue, salivary glands, etc.), pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, uterine cervix, kidney, urethra, and bladder, as well as leukemia. In the lungs, it can cause everything from pneumonia, influenza, and bronchitis, to emphysema and chronic obstruction. Furthermore, it has been found that babies born to mothers who smoke are born smaller and are subsequently small children with less learning ability.

Smokers are smokers from an early age

We all went through the difficult "just a taste" test at one time or another during adolescence. For some, the heavy "what do you expect?" taste in the mouth and the feeling of nausea is enough to "pass without seeing". But for others, passing the test has other meanings that are well worth the initial "sacrifice".

Smoking scholars have identified some such incentives, which, moreover, are absolutely associated with organized, planned, and deliberate tobacco advertising to encourage smoking. Thus, for example, in certain societies, when a young person reaches adulthood, he or she acquires a variety of behaviors, including smoking, which is a public expression of his or her adult status. Initiation into smoking is also associated with an anti-authoritarian gesture, a reaction to behavior that adults (despite smoking themselves) indicate as harmful.

The symbol of modernity and wealth, associated with cigarettes and insistently promoted by advertising, urges anyone not to remain a mere spectator of "so much advantage". On the other hand, many of the public figures that young people admire (singers, actors and actresses, and even intellectuals), who are also handled by tobacco advertising, are associated with images with cigarettes. Thus, all the connotations of luxury, international travel, sexuality, companionship, exclusivity, relaxation, etc., etc., arise because advertising constantly attributes such meanings to cigarettes, drawing on very common human emotions, hopes, and yearnings.

Some research on smoking lists, by way of conclusion, the main causes of the phenomenon as the lack of understanding of the harmful effects of tobacco, the management of advertising, the presence of so many other smokers, the lack of maturity of judgment, and the rebellious attitude of young people, unhealthy ideas about consumption, the use of tobacco in social life, insufficient legislation to combat smoking, and pleasure and addiction.

On the last point, it is necessary to point out that although there was sufficient information about the addictive power of nicotine for more than two decades, it was not until 1988 that this characteristic was recognized. Moreover, the possible way in which nicotine acts on the pleasure center, in the same way as cocaine, amphetamines, heroin, and alcohol, has recently been elucidated. Thus, nicotine is addictive and difficult to do without. There is even information about an American tobacco company that, through genetic manipulation, produced tobacco that contained more than twice the nicotine found in some cigarettes.

And once you are a smoker, how do you stop being one?

It is estimated that there are currently 1.1 billion smokers in the world, who are suffering or will soon suffer some of the consequences of the habit. In addition, there is an estimated population of "passive" smokers who will also suffer some of the consequences. Some countries have adopted severe measures against smoking, given the enormous public health problems it entails, despite the strong political and economic pressures exerted by tobacco companies on governments. In Singapore, for example, all cigarette advertising is banned, sales to minors are restricted and there is a strong educational campaign to warn of the health costs. Thailand has similar programs, as do European countries.

The fight against smoking has two aspects: one is help and treatment for addicts who wish to quit smoking, and the other is prevention. For the first, there are structured programs that promote, through interviews and treatments, the substitution of nicotine, by means of a substance known as NRT. However, it should be recognized that 73% of smokers want to quit, a third have made the attempt at least three times, and of these only 45% succeed before the age of sixty. Specialists point out that quitting smoking is determined by the balance of two opposing forces: one, the motivation to quit, and the other, the level of dependence. For all these reasons, the second aspect is indispensable for healthy public health: prevention.

To prevent and not to regret

Prevention has education as its backbone, however, it must have another series of supports to discourage young people from starting the habit. Advertising should be restricted to a minimum, information on the dangers of smoking should be distributed in schools, smoking should be banned in all educational centers, the sale of cigarettes to adults should be limited, and sales through vending machines should be prohibited.

It would be very useful to make use of the experiences of countries with a genuine interest in tobacco control. For example, in certain Chinese cities, pilot campaigns were conducted in schools to inform children about the dangers of tobacco so that they would urge their parents not to use it. The results were modest, but a proportion of parents did seek help to kick the addiction. The fight against tobacco is definitely a daily struggle, like those required by other preventable evils. The role of parents and teachers in clarifying any doubts is indispensable.

Quitting smoking can be done

If you want to quit smoking, there are many ways to quit and many ways to help you quit. Family members, friends, and co-workers can be very supportive, but to succeed, the main thing is to be convinced and have the desire to quit. Most people who have been able to successfully quit smoking make at least one unsuccessful attempt in the past. These attempts should not be seen as failures but as learning experiences. Here are some tips for quitting smoking.

Do you feel ready to quit smoking?

First, set a date to quit smoking completely that day. Before that date, start cutting back on cigarettes. You can make a calendar and follow it day by day, marking your progress until you reach your goal day. Make a list of the reasons why you want to quit. Include both short-term and long-term benefits. Analyze them and see the benefits to your physical and mental health.

Identify the times when you are most likely to smoke, for example: Do you tend to smoke when you are stressed? When you are out in the evening with friends? When you are drinking coffee or alcohol? When you are bored? When you are driving? Immediately after a meal or having sex? During a break at work? While you are watching TV or playing cards? When you are with other smokers? Start avoiding doing it every time you are in each of these situations.

Tell all your friends, family, and coworkers about your plan to quit and the date to start. It can help to let them know what you're going to go through, especially when you're grumpy. Get rid of all cigarettes just before your quit date and clean up anything that smells like smoke, such as clothing and furniture.

Make a plan

Make a plan for what you will do instead of smoking at those times when you are most likely to smoke. Be as specific as possible. For example, drink tea instead of coffee, since tea may not trigger the desire for a cigarette, or take a walk when you feel stressed. Remove ashtrays and cigarettes from the car and place cookies or hard candy in their place. Take a straw and pretend to smoke to reduce cravings.

Find activities that occupy your hands and mind, but are not strenuous or fattening. Computer games, solitaire, knitting, sewing, and crossword puzzles can help. If you normally smoke after eating, find other ways to finish a meal. Listen to music, eat a piece of fruit, get up and make a phone call or take a walk (a good distraction that also burns calories).

Change your lifestyle

Make other lifestyle changes. Change your daily schedule and habits. Eat at different times or eat several small meals instead of three large ones. Sit in a different chair or even in a different room. Decrease the craving to smoke by eating vegetables such as celery, carrots, broccoli, jicama, etc. Go to public places and restaurants where smoking is prohibited or restricted. Eat regular meals and do not eat too many sweets or sweet foods. Exercise more, walk, or ride a bicycle. Exercise helps you relieve the urge to smoke.

Set some goals

Set short-term goals to quit smoking and reward yourself when you achieve them. Every day, put the money you normally spend on cigarettes in a jar. Then buy something you like.

Other tips

You can find more tips and programs to quit smoking on the internet. Consult it and follow it, it can be of great help. The best thing to do is to try to quit naturally, but if you need support, ask your doctor about how he/she can help you to quit smoking. Above all, do not get discouraged if you are not able to quit smoking the first time. Nicotine addiction is a hard habit to break. Try something different next time. Develop new strategies and try again. Many people try several times before they finally kick the habit. You can do it and regain your health.

Nearly 1,000 people die every day in eight Latin America due to smoking

Cigarette consumption causes 960 deaths per day in eight Latin American countries, in addition to the millions of dollars in costs associated with the care of smoking-related diseases, according to a study. The research, led by the Institute of Clinical and Health Effectiveness (IECS), in Buenos Aires, in collaboration with research centers, universities, and public institutions from different countries, was carried out in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, and Peru.

According to the study, smoking causes 123 deaths per day in Argentina; 52 in Chile; 83 in Colombia; 443 in Brazil; six in Costa Rica; 19 in Ecuador; 173 in Mexico and 61 in Peru. Thus, deaths associated with smoking have an incidence of between nine percent, as in the case of Costa Rica, and 22%, as in Peru, of the total number of deaths of people over 35 years of age in the region. "Smoking is a major public health problem and in order to address it efficiently with public policies it is necessary to have evidence that quantifies its impact," said the executive director of the IECS, Andrés Pichon-Riviere.

Diseases caused by cigarette smoking

The research, financed by the International Development Research Centre of Canada and the Institute of Cancer Research of the United Kingdom, also details the number of people who fall ill each year in the region as a result of smoking or exposure to smoke emitted by others (passive smoking). In Argentina, this problem causes some 225,000 cases per year of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, pneumonia, heart disease, and strokes. In Chile, 120,000 people fall ill each year; in Colombia, 164,000; in Brazil, 1.1 million; in Costa Rica, 16,000; in Ecuador, 50,000; in Mexico, 429,000; and in Peru, 125,000.

Millionaire cigarette costs

The research also determined that in the eight countries included in the study, the costs of smoking to the health systems and the economy, including direct medical care expenses for the diseases it causes, lost labor productivity and family care, amount to a regional total of 46,346 million dollars.

In the different countries studied, tax revenues from cigarette taxes barely cover between five and 30% of the total economic losses caused by smoking. "In general, the price of cigarettes is low in Latin American countries and there is room to increase tobacco taxes," said economist Alfredo Palacios, coordinator of Health Economics at the IECS.

Palacios, the lead author of the study, noted that, in fact, "the World Health Organization (WHO) maintains that increasing the price of tobacco products through taxes is the best measure to dissuade their consumption and reduce their harmful impact on society". In this sense, the study projected that in the eight countries analyzed, raising the price of cigarettes by 50% through taxes would have a total economic benefit over 10 years of 61,870 million dollars and could prevent 278,721 deaths over the course of a decade.

Sources: Luci Cruz Wilson