By Dr. David Lipschitz
Special to the Las Vegas Tribune
Nicotine in cigarettes makes them highly addicting. Despite the fact
that everyone knows cigarettes lead to lung cancer, severe lung
disease, heart attacks and stroke, a large number of those who do
smoke are unable to quit no matter how hard they try.
Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals that are dangerous to
your health. These include 60 known carcinogens, including tar,
arsenic, benzene, formaldehyde, cadmium and polonium 210 a highly
radioactive compound. These compounds cause damage to cells lining the
larger airways of the lung. As carcinogens, they cause alterations in
the cell’s DNA and other functions leading to a higher risk of
Not only does tobacco smoke cause lung cancer (the leading cause of
cancer deaths by far), but it also damages the lung leading to chronic
bronchitis and chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). Very early
after starting smoking lung function becomes impaired and worsens
inexorably over time. This leads to a chronic cough and shortness of
breath and eventually to COPD that afflicts 12 million Americans and
an equal number who may have the disease but be unaware of it. COPD is
the third leading cause of death in the United States, resulting in
crippling shortness of breath that is so severe that walking may
become impossible even when wearing oxygen.
It is nicotine addiction that makes quitting smoking so difficult.
Smoke a pack or more daily and stopping will almost always lead to
withdrawal symptoms. These include dizziness, depression, anxiety,
sleep disturbances, headache, fatigue, increased appetite and weight
gain. Many who have tried to quit state they began again either
because they were so stressed that they could not cope or because they
worried about weight gain.
Because smoking is an addiction, most will require a strong support
group in order to succeed. While most smokers who quit gain a modest
amount of weight, in the range of four to 10 pounds, the benefits of
no longer smoking far outweigh any potential disadvantages.
Some experts recommend setting a date when you plan to quit and then
stop “cold turkey”. Studies show that over 90 percent of smokers will
have attempted to quit this way at some point in their lives.
Sadly the success rate is only about 5 percent.
Today, many attempt quitting by using nicotine gum, nicotine patches
or most recently, e-cigarettes. All provide higher blood levels of
nicotine that reduces the craving for cigarettes. These approaches are
often successful in stopping smoking and with time the concentration
of nicotine is reduced so the addiction gradually fades away.
Currently, the e-cigarette is becoming more and more popular. These
battery-powered devices look like a cigarette and appear to burn as
you inhale. The mouthpiece has a cartridge containing a fluid with
varying concentrations of nicotine. A battery powers a heating element
that turns the nicotine fluid into a vapor as you inhale. A chemical
in the vapor makes it look white, just like cigarette smoke. The
solution comes in many different flavors, including chocolate, cherry
While an e-cigarette is certainly safer than cigarettes, there are
concerns about potential risks. To date, no long-term studies have
been done to determine the harmful effects of inhaling these vapors.
More importantly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has
recently reported that from 2011 to 2012 the number of teenagers using
e-cigarettes doubled from 4.7 to 10 percent. And over 78 percent of
these also use real cigarettes. With its sweet flavors, the
e-cigarette is particularly appealing to children. Even if the vapor
is harmless, the potential of lifelong nicotine addiction and
long-term use of conventional cigarettes is a serious concern.
While nicotine products and quitting cold turkey can help stopping
smoking, the best approach is to join a support group. A good example
is a program offered by the American Lung Association, “Freedom from
Smoking,” which teaches the techniques and skills known to be
effective in helping someone quit. Many clinics use this approach to
help their patients stop smoking. And the program is also available
online and as a self-help book.
I do not know any smoker who does not want to quit. Everyone should be
aware that there is help out there, and with perseverance and a strong
and understanding support system, anyone can quit.
Dr. David Lipschitz is the author of the book “Breaking the Rules of
Aging.” To find out more about Dr. David Lipschitz and read features
by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the
Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. More information is
available at: DrDavidHealth.com
By Dr. David Lipschitz