Words of Wellness: Your health, up in smoke

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Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States.  It causes many different cancers, chronic lung diseases such as emphysema and bronchitis, heart disease, pregnancy-related problems, and many other serious health issues.

Each day, more than 3,600 people under the age of 18 smoke their first cigarette, and more than 900 begin a daily smoking habit.  In 2011, approximately 19.0% (43.8 million) of adults in the United States were cigarette smokers. Seventeen percent of the population in Vermont smokes cigarettes, which ranks Vt. 33rd in the Nation.  The average cost of a package of cigarettes in Vermont is $6.53.

Cigarette smoking causes an estimated 443,000 deaths each year, including approximately 49,400 deaths due to exposure to secondhand smoke.  Over 8.5 million people live with a serious illness due to smoking.  On average, those who smoke die 13-14 years earlier than those who do not smoke.  Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer-death among men and women in the United States, and 90% of lung cancer deaths among men and approximately 80% of lung cancer deaths among women are due to smoking.

There are many other types of cancers that are caused by smoking.  Cancers of the throat, mouth, nasal cavity, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, cervix and acute myeloid leukemia are a few.  Those individuals who smoke are also at a much higher risk for suffering a heart attack.  Most cases of chronic obstructive lung disease are caused from smoking.  Among youth who persist in smoking, a third will die prematurely from smoking.

There are an estimated 88 million nonsmoking Americans, including 54% of children aged 3-11 years that are exposed to secondhand smoke.  Nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke increase their lung cancer risk by 20-30%.  Approximately 3,400 lung cancer deaths among nonsmoking adults are caused from secondhand smoke.  Approximately 46,000 deaths from heart disease among nonsmoking adults occur annually from secondhand smoke.

Tobacco is a leafy plant that is grown around the world.  China, India, Brazil and the United States are the top four world-wide producers, accounting for two-thirds of the world’s tobacco.  There are 16 states in the U.S that currently grow tobacco.  Of those, Kentucky and North Carolina are the largest U.S producers of tobacco.  They grow 71% of U.S tobacco.

Dried tobacco leaves are typically shredded and smoked in cigarettes, pipes and cigars.  The leaves can also be ground into snuff, which is then sniffed through the nose.  Tobacco leaves can be cured and made into chewing tobacco.  Tobacco is an addictive substance because it contains the chemical nicotine.  Like heroin or cocaine, nicotine changes the way your brain works and causes you to crave more and more nicotine.  This addiction to nicotine is what makes it so difficult to quit smoking and to stop using other tobacco products.

Cigarettes are the most widely used tobacco product in the United States.  Tobacco smoke contains a deadly mix of more than 7,000 chemicals.  Hundreds of these chemicals are toxic.  70 of them are known to cause cancer.  These chemicals can also affect those around you.  Breathing secondhand smoke from cigarettes is harmful to both children and adults.

Smokeless tobacco products are those products that still contain tobacco, but are not burned.  Chewing tobacco and snuff are the two commonly used smokeless tobacco products in the U.S.  Chewing tobacco is placed between the cheeks and gums while snuff can be sniffed through the nose.  No tobacco product is safe.  Smokeless tobacco is not a safe alternative to smoking cigarettes.

Electronic cigarettes are battery operated products that are designed to turn nicotine and other chemicals into a vapor.  You then inhale the vapor.  E-cigarettes are often made to look like cigarettes, cigars, pipes and pens.  E-cigarettes may contain toxic ingredients to humans.  To date, there have been no clinical studies submitted to the U.S Food and Drug Administraion.  There is no way to know if these are safe, how much nicotine you are inhaling or which chemicals they contain.  Additionally, these products may be attractive to kids and may lead them to try other tobacco products such as conventional cigarettes. Although these electronic cigarettes are marketed as a tool to help smokers quit and because there currently is no FDA evaluation or approval, there is no evidence to support these claims.

If you want to quit and or know someone who may be interested in quitting, there are several options available, some of which may be free.  To get more information about quitting, please contact Johnson State Student Health Center @ 802-635-1265 and or drop by the Health Center any time between 9-4 pm Monday- Thursday and/or Friday 9-1pm for further assistance.

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