Recent research suggests that smoking is a whole lot worse for you than previously thought. Marty Richardson outlines just some of the reasons to 'bag the fag'.
Each year thousands of Australians steel themselves and embark on the most common of new year resolutions - to stop smoking. And with the aid of far greater knowledge of the damage cigarettes cause not only to themselves but also to others, it is hoped that an increasing number will be successful in their quest.
However, according to ongoing studies and information provided by The National Tobacco Campaign, quitting the 'cancer sticks' for many appears a more difficult challenge than running a marathon.
For those who decided on the first day of the new millennium to kick the habit, statistics indicate 40 per cent will have slipped up during the first three days of their vigil. And a further three weeks into the year 35 per cent will have, in a moment of weakness, complacency or stupidity, re-acquainted themselves with the 4000 chemicals and 40 cancer-causing toxins their mind (definitely not their body) craves.
In fact, sadly, 80 per cent of those who cannot quite kick the habit return to full-time smoking.
More than 9,000 calls were made to Quitline in the lead up to New Year 2001, with many smokers no doubt feeling increasingly ostracised from leading a normal social life (not all those anxious, furtive looking people lingering outside restaurants are waiting for taxi's are they?).
But how many smokers are fully aware of the full-range of health disasters that become increasingly threatening each time they spark up.
Damage to the macula
The litany of health complications caused by smoking is mounting, with scientific research doing its best to increase the pressure on governments' worldwide to put an end to the astoundingly powerful and influential tobacco industry.
One such complication stems from recent evidence that indicates damage caused to the eye from smoking leads to oxidative or other damage to the macula - the part of the retina at the back of eye that is used when looking directly at someone or when reading.
Professor Hugh Taylor from the University of Melbourne's department of Ophthalmology is adamant that smoking causes particular damage to "fine vision".
"Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in Australia and smoking is the major cause of this condition," Prof Taylor said.
"While peripheral vision is generally unaffected, it is people's fine vision that is eventually destroyed.
"This damage to the eye severely limits the ability of a person to see what they are looking at, particularly affecting a person's ability to read and distinguish faces," said Prof Taylor.
Cancer free with p53
The p53 gene, which is found in the nucleus of every cell in the human body, is known as the 'guardian of the genome'.
The genome is the technical name for genetic information or DNA. Every day, DNA in many of our cells copies itself, and every day a few errors are made during this process. The new cells created by these mistakes have the potential to become cancerous.
One of the p53's main roles is to clean up those changes and errors within the cell. A p53 gene, which does not work properly would leave a cell, and ultimately a human body, highly susceptible to cancer.
Scientists from California and Texas made the direct genetic link between smoking and lung cancer in 1996 when they proved that a carcinogen, benzopyrene, which is found in high concentrations in cigarette smoke, directly damages the p53 gene. Unfortunately there is no simple test to see what condition somebody's p53 genes are in.
Smoke and stroke
Many people are aware that a stroke happens when the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly disrupted.
What many people don't know is that smoking can cause an artery in the brain to become blocked by a clot or other debris carried in the bloodstream. Smoking is also one of the main causes of arteriosclerosis - the narrowing of the arteries with plaque. These areas of plaque may be unstable and can either break off and lodge in a smaller artery in other parts of the body - such as the brain - or can rupture and obstruct the immediate artery, cutting off the blood supply to the surrounding brain cells and causing them to die.
Stroke affects the thinking, movement, speech and/or other senses of more than 40,000 Australians each year and smoking is the major contributing factor in 10,000 of these cases.
A smoker is twice as likely to have a stroke as a person who has never smoked, but the good news is that when a smoker quits, the recovery process begins almost immediately and the risk of stroke reduces to the same level as someone who has never smoked within two to four years.
There is a wide range of health problems associated with the lung that smoking encourages, such as the paralyses and/or complete destruction of the cilia, which line the upper airways and protect against infection.
Smoking has the evil ability to destroy the alveoli - air sacs - that absorb oxygen and get rid of carbon dioxide. It damages lung tissue, making the lungs less able to function. It also irritates the lungs sufficiently to create phlegm and narrow the airways, which in turn makes it harder to breathe and forces carbon monoxide into the blood.
What are the noticeable affects on the lungs that smokers may have to contend with? Well shortness of breath is probably the most common, followed by coughing, chronic bronchitis and repeated chest infections. Smoking worsens asthma and causes lung cancer.
Many people continue to smoke, thinking they can give up if and when signs of damage become obvious. However, new research indicates smoking causes serious damage from very early in life.
A study funded by the US National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute involved more than 1400 men and women aged 15 to 34, who had an autopsy performed within 48 hours of death.
Pathologists dissected arteries and measured the area and depth of fatty streaks and raised lesions on the artery walls. They found that those who smoked had more than three times the early signs of arteriosclerosis in the abdominal aorta than those who didn't.
- Smoking is the largest single preventable cause of death and disease in Australia. There are around 50 tobacco caused deaths each day, 350 each week, about 18,000 each year.
- Every month Australian tobacco companies lose at least 12,000 customers. Ten and a half thousand quit and fifteen hundred die of diseases cause by smoking.
- 25% of the Australian population are regular smokers. 80% of them have tried to quit at least once.
- A twenty-a-day smoker, aged 30, who started smoking at around sixteen, has already breathed a kilo of tar into their lungs.
- Tobacco smoke contains over four thousand chemicals, many of which are highly toxic and over 40 of which are known cancer-causing substances. There is no safe 'low tar' cigarette and no known safe level of smoking.
- Male smokers may produce less sperm and their sperm may have more abnormalities than non-smokers. Women who smoke take longer to conceive and are more likely to have a miscarriage.
- Successfully quitting usually takes a number of attempts. 40% of slip-ups occur in the first three days and 34% within two weeks. In 80% of slip-ups the smoker returns to full time smoking.
- After quitting the body can rid itself of nicotine and carbon monoxide within twelve hours and nicotine by-products within a few days. Blood flow to the limbs improves within two months and lungs regain the capacity to clean themselves within three months.
- Women smokers who use the pill increase their risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases by 10.
- Over 57,000 reports world-wide have examined the link between cigarette smoking and disease - making it the most researched cause of disease ever investigated in the history of biomedical research.
*All information supplied by the National Tobacco Campaign. For further comprehensive information call the national Quitline on 131 848 or visit the National Tobacco Campaign website at www.quitnow.info.au