01.09.2008

No Butts

I find it hard to feel sorry for smokers, with their belligerent, compulsive, addictive tendency for slow self destruction set against my strong desire to act preventatively and solve illnesses well before they occur.

And few things in healthcare are surer than the fact that smoking is bad for you, offering several great disease-based reasons to quit. Even the judgementalism smokers have inflicted upon them these days could well be having some damaging effects upon their health! Smokers have become the lepers of today, gathering together in a huddle, while non smokers cast disapproving glances and offer uncharitable observations on the sudden change of air quality as they walk quickly by, even moving tables at cafes, complete with mutterings and scowls, when someone lights up at the table next to them. We shouldn't overlook that regular harsh judgement as being bad for health considering smoking has been linked to depression and anxiety.

There are two main reasons why non smokers avoid close proximity with smokers.

The first is that most sensible people don't like to knowingly expose themselves to chemicals proven to cause premature, painful death. The second reason is that, to most non smokers, the smell of a smoker can be hard to take. Unfortunately, most smokers have desensitised their sense of smell so much they are just not aware of the lingering whiff. I have had more smokers than I care to remember who have just finished hammering another nail into the coffin just before their appointment with me, causing my office to reek so badly that much later in the day, non smoking clients will still be commenting on the smell.

Perhaps the social attitudes towards smoking may have some detrimental effects on the mental and physical health of persistent smokers. But that aside, there are some significant common diseases worth revisiting when it comes to considering the direct health consequences of smoking.

The first terrible consequence that generally springs to mind when we think of long-term smoking is lung cancer. And with a third of all cancer deaths being attributable to lung cancer, and 90% percent of all lung cancers being due to smoking, and almost one fifth of all lifetime smokers developing lung cancer, the associated risk is no small one.

I suspect there would be a lot more smokers developing lung cancer if so many of them weren't succumbing to vascular disease first. The atherosclerotic changes that occur in the circulatory system are one of the biggest factors which combine to knock an average 10 years off the life of a smoker, with strokes and heart attacks, high blood pressure, nose bleeds, impotence, haemorrhoids, varicose veins and spider veins all potential outcomes of the arterial- hardening, circulation-rotting process of long term smoking.

When you consider the assault on circulation from increased levels and activity of clotting factors such as platelets and fibrinogen, the raised cholesterol, blood pressure, active inflammation and significantly reduced oxygen-carrying capacity as carbon monoxide monopolises haemoglobin in the blood, it's a wonder the circulatory system doesn't just choke at the first puff.

Add to these depressing facts the dramatic impact upon reproductive health, rapidly ageing skin and the insidious gum disease which increases tooth loss in smokers by a staggering 600%, and I barely need to mention oral cancer and emphysema to make my point.

Clearly, smoking is very addictive and terrible for your health, but the good news is there are many supportive measures that can help you stop. In my experience over the years, I've found the most successful approach to quitting cigarettes involves quitting cold turkey at the very beginning of a comprehensive detoxification program that lasts for three to four weeks, supported with anxiety reducing herbs, as well as hypnosis when needed.

But, before you decide never again to smoke a single cigarette, you must first clarify in your mind just exactly why you intend to quit. Whether the reason is for yourself, your family, your friends, your health, or your budget, you must know clearly and relate solidly to your "why". Once you have done this, the next step is to throw away all ashtrays, cigarettes and lighters - non smokers just don't have them and it means you are serious. Keep a pocket full of almonds, sunflower and pumpkin seeds as healthy distractions for whenever cravings hit and to appease any appetite hikes.

So, having read all of that, if you are still intent on emulating an industrial smokestack, then my only request is that you put your butts in the bin. And while various Naturopathic approaches provide benefits in reducing the risks of smoking, I won't mention them for fear of giving anyone leverage to keep smoking. And even if you reduce your risk to nil you'll still smell bad!

Good Health, Jeremy

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this column are those of the writer and are intended as an informed contribution to people seeking to pursue holistic health and lifestyle. For medical advice, always be guided by your own healthcare professionals.

Jeremy Hill (Diploma of Natural Therapy) is a Qualified Naturopath

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