If beetroot and rhubarb were found not only to cause cancer in 10% of their heavy consumers, but eventually to bring 25% to an early death, no-one would consume them and the government would have legislated against growing them long ago. Sadly, this is not so with cigarette smoking, as the sale of cigarettes is permitted, cigarettes have been heavily promoted by advertising and large profits are made from their sale.
Over the centuries, since the introduction of tobacco to Europe in the 1590s, more and more people have become addicted to nicotine. Women started smoking in public during the First World War. The habit reached a peak during the Second World War when 75% of the adult population of most western countries were smokers. When today’s grandparents were children, they were warned against smoking because “it stunts the growth” (something it only does to the babies of smoking mothers), but generally it was not regarded as harmful, at least for adults. Cigarettes, cigars, lighters, pipes, ashtrays, etc, were standard gifts at Christmas and birthday for a generation. Vast factories poured out billions of cigarettes that were made, packed, wrapped and boxed untouched by human hand. Multinational tobacco corporations gained enormous profits, and became powerful friends of government as tax payers and revenue earners. Governments even subsidised the growth of tobacco in some areas.
Then came the crunch. It was found that smoking tobacco killed people. There was a long delay and more than half the smokers escaped, but there was little doubt about it – for many people smoking was lethal.
Nicotine is a very powerful and toxic substance, which acts initially as a stimulant on the central nervous system. This effect is followed by a reduction of brain and nervous system activity. Nicotine causes narrowing of blood vessels, which then affects the circulation and causes blood pressure to rise. This is why regular absorption of nicotine through smoking can cause chronic heart problems and increases the possibility of heart attacks. In addition to nicotine, tobacco smoke contains many other chemicals, which are harmful, including tar and carbon monoxide. Tar released in the form of particles in the smoke is the main cause of lung and throat cancer in smokers and also aggravates bronchial and respiratory disease.
We now know that 11% of smokers will get lung cancer, and 90% of these patients will die. Coronary heart disease will kill many prematurely. Chronic lung disease will cripple a large proportion of the remainder. Women smokers have an increased risk of cancer of the cervix.
Smoking is known to increase the incidence of a wide range of medical problems including:-
- lung cancer
- heart attacks angina
- chronic bronchitis asthma
- cancer of the cervix depression
- high blood pressure bladder cancer throat cancer
- tongue cancer
- oesophageal cancer kidney cancer
- pancreatic cancer
- small and sicker babies of pregnant women sinusitis
- viral and bacterial infections of the throat and lungs (eg. influenza, tonsillitis)
- poor circulation to feet and hands (Buerger disease)
- pneumothorax mouth ulcers
- peptic ulcers
- reflux oesophagitis
It also alters the actions of many medications from beta-blockers to asthma inhalers. Many of the effects above may affect not only the smoker, but also those who live and work with smokers (passive smokers). Cigarette smoke contains hundreds of chemicals. Amongst the worst are:-
|Carbon monoxide||Suffocates and blocks oxygen uptake|
|Nicotine||Stimulation and addiction|
|Carbazole||Accelerates cancer growth|
|Acetaldehyde||Slows function of cilia (fine hairs) in airways|
|Formaldehyde||Stops phlegm clearance from airways|
|Indole dyes||Accelerates cancer growth|
If governments actually recorded these substances officially, they would have to ban the sale of cigarettes, as no other product that contained these substances would be allowed on the market.
The medical facts are conclusive – smoking is the biggest health problem in the Western world. It contributes to more deaths than alcohol and illicit drugs together, and costs the economies of these countries millions of dollars a year. If nobody smoked, there would be 30% less cancer.