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How does Tobacco cause premature death?

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TobaccoTobacco is a plant that grows naturally. The leaves of tobacco are consumed in various forms in different parts of the world. The most common form of tobacco consumption is smoking. Other types of consumption especially in India include tobacco chewing and sniffing. The chemical substance responsible for addiction of tobacco is nicotine. Irrespective of the mode of consumption, tobacco has serious health effects.

The smoke from combustible tobacco products contains more than 7,000 chemicals. Each cigarette delivers around 1 to 2 mg of nicotine to the body. Among those who do not inhale the smoke—such as cigar and pipe smokers and smokeless tobacco users—nicotine is absorbed through mucous membranes in the mouth. Addiction to tobacco is characterised by compulsive drug-seeking and use, even in the face of negative health consequences.

Cigarette smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and smoking is the leading preventable cause of premature death. Although rates of smoking have declined, it is estimated that it leads to about five lakh deaths yearly. Smokers aged 60 and older has a two-fold increase in mortality compared with those who never smoked.

Quitting smoking results in immediate health benefits, and some or all of the reduced life expectancy can be recovered depending on the age a person quits.

Although nicotine itself does not cause cancer, at least 69 chemicals in tobacco smoke are carcinogenic. Cigarette smoking accounts for at least 30 per cent of all cancer deaths. The overall rates of death from cancer are twice as high among smokers as non-smokers, with smokers having a four times greater risk of death from cancer than non-smokers.

Smoking is also associated with cancers of the mouth, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, cervix, kidney, and bladder. Cigarette smoking is not the only form of tobacco use associated with cancers. Smokeless tobacco has been linked to cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx and esophagus.

In addition to cancer, smoking causes lung diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and it has been found to increase asthma symptoms in adults and children. Smoking also substantially increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, kidney failure and peripheral vascular disease. Smoking is a well known cause for premature ageing and sexual dysfunction among young men.

Second hand smoke is another significant public health concern. It increases the risk for many diseases. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke among non-smokers increases lung cancer risk by about 20 per cent. Exposure to tobacco smoke in the home is also a risk factor for asthma in children.

Most people who use tobacco usually start during adolescence. According to a recent study done in US, approximately 9.7 per cent of 12th graders, 5.0 percent of 10th graders, and 1.9 per cent of 8th graders used cigarettes in the past month. That highlights the importance of public health measure to avoid selling cigarettes to people younger than 21 years.

However, it’s never late to quit tobacco. The benefits of quitting tobacco start immediately and will definitely improve the health status of an individual.

Quitting tobacco usage is not easy, as it is a physical addiction. Sudden decrease in nicotine levels in the body can give rise to withdrawal symptoms. There are various methods to help one quit tobacco products. The single most important factor which helps a person to quit tobacco usage is ‘self-motivation’.

Few suggestions include

  1. a) Stop buying whole packs
  2. b) Don’t keep cigarettes and other forms of tobacco at home
  3. c) Make sure you have to walk for some distance to buy tobacco products.

Following these simple things will definitely decrease the quantity of tobacco usage. There are various nicotine replacement therapies available in the market including nicotine chewing gums. These help in reducing the withdrawal symptoms. Other pharmacological therapies are also available which can be started after consulting an expert. “It’s better to be late than never.”

(Disclaimer: The writer is Dr Sandeepa, Consultant Transplant Pulmonologist, BGS Gleneagles Global Hospitals, Bengaluru. The views expressed are personal opinion.)

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