Keeping it Healthy Smoke Free

With a new year upon the world, it’s time once again to make resolutions for 2006.
Whether it’s weight-loss, saving to purchase a new car, getting out of debt, or anything else, it’s a chance to be better than the year before. For tobacco users, why not try a tobacco cessation class for this New Year’s resolution.

Robert E. Bush Naval Hospital holds tobacco cessation classes each month.
“It’s the second leading drain on the Department of Defense for active-duty personnel,” said Martha Hunt, health promotion coordinator. “It’s the leading cause of health problems in the US. Tobacco use causes 50,000 deaths annually, 6,000 of which are children under the age of 5.”

The human brain is made up of billions of nerve cells, and they communicate by releasing chemical messengers called neurotransmitters. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, scientists recently discovered nicotine raises the levels of a neurotransmitter called dopamine in parts of the brain dealing with pleasure. Dopamine is the same neurotransmitter found in addictions to other drugs like cocaine and heroin. This could explain why tobacco use is so addicting.

When people get bored or stressed they often respond by using tobacco to relieve that stress or boredom, and that’s an inadequate coping response, said Hunt.

“We give them the tools needed to deal with coping with boredom and stress,” she said, referring to the smoking cessation course.

With all the dangers inherent in using tobacco, it seems impossible to find a harmless version to smoke or chew. The tobacco cessation course provides support, motivation and nicotine patches to those seeking a way to give up their harmful habit.

“Tobacco is tobacco – all tobacco is lethal,” said Hunt. “The whole focus of the course is to get them off tobacco, not to get them to switch to a different brand.”

Since the first Surgeon General’s report on smoking and health in 1964, 27 additional reports have concluded that tobacco use is the most avoidable cause of disease, disability and death in the United States.

According the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, cigarette smoke damages lungs and airways by causing air passages to swell and become filled with mucus. Cigarette smoke can also lead to lung disease, chronic bronchitis, heart disease or cancer. Women smokers are at greater risk of developing osteoporosis, and some women may begin menopause earlier.

Smoking also affects normal breathing, making it more difficult as emphysema develops. Emphysema is a blockage in the airways that develops because of permanent changes in lung tissue, which makes getting enough oxygen difficult for even normal breathing.

Smoking is not only dangerous to smokers. Second-hand smoke can also be deadly. Considering the dangers created by second-hand smoke, breathing it is very similar to being a regular smoker.

All over the world, people die every year from disease caused by someone else’s tobacco use. For children, its effects are even more impairing. Second-hand smoke has been found to contribute to causing bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma attacks, and inner ear infections in babies and young children. In some cases it has also been associated with Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, according to studies done by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

According to the National Cancer Institues’s Web site, tobacco companies designed light cigarettes with tiny holes in the filter, which dilute cigarette smoke with oxygen. As a result, smokers are forced to inhale deeper carrying the smoke and tar deeper into their lungs, increasing their chances of contracting lung disease.

“In fact, a light cigarette doubles the rate of lung cancer, and by the time lung cancer is detectable, it’s already too late,” said Hunt.

Smokeless tobacco, while lacking some of the dangers of smoking, is not harmless. There are more than 4,000 chemicals, including nicotine, in tobacco. Thus, smokeless tobacco carries the same innate dangers as regular tobacco. It can also cause cancer of the mouth, larynx or esophagus, as well as tooth and heart problems.

“One can of dip is equal to five packs of cigarettes, and it is a lethal dose to an animal or small child,” said Hunt. “Smokeless tobacco causes oral cancer, smoking causes lung cancer – they’re equally deadly.”

According to the Surgeon General’s 2004 report on the health consequences of smoking, quitting will have immediate as well as long-term benefits, reducing risks for diseases caused by smoking and improving health in general.