"Tobacco is one of the most addictive drugs in the world and smoking is the No. 1 cause of preventable deaths in the United States," says Dr. Ali Al-Himyary, a board-certified specialist in Pulmonary Medicine, Critical Care Medicine and Sleep Medicine at Kelsey-Seybold Clinic.
Tobacco use is a major cause of disease in the United States, responsible for more than 438,000 deaths each year.
Additionally, exposure to second-hand smoke is a contributing factor to an estimated 40,000 cases of heart disease.
"It's strange," Dr. Al-Himyary says, "that otherwise loving parents, who would never dream of striking their children, don't think of the harm second-hand smoke does to their lungs."
Second-hand smoke causes lower-respiratory infections in children. Infants under 18 months are especially vulnerable.
"Whatever tobacco touches, whether it makes smoke or not, increases the risk of cancer in that area," Dr. Al-Himyary says. "Some are under the misconception that cigars are safe because not much of the smoke is inhaled."
But they're not.
"The new trend of using a hookah (a tobacco pipe of Near Eastern origin with a long, flexible tube by which the smoke is drawn through a jar of water and thus cooled) with the assumption that the water filters the tobacco and is thus healthier than cigarettes," Dr. Al-Himyary says, "is another dangerous fallacy."
Chewing tobacco, unlit cigars and snuff contributes to oral cancers and gum diseases. Smoking is also a major contributor to osteoporosis, premature facial wrinkles, peptic ulcers, pregnancy problems and erectile dysfunction.
"Most smokers have begun their addiction by age 18," Dr. Al-Himyary says. "A generation ago, they were influenced by movie-star role models.
"Growing up, we watched Humphrey Bogart or Clark Gable smoking cigarettes and looking great and people wanted to be like them," he says.
Bogart died of throat cancer at 57; Gable died of a heart attack at 59; and matinee idol Tyrone Power, a heavy smoker, died of a heart attack at 44.
Advertising agencies appeal to the young and middle-aged with adventurous images from Marlboro or Camel aimed at men. And sophisticated Virginia Slims ads directed at women, such as the wildly successful "You've come a long way, baby" ad campaign of '68-'86.
"Smoking among American women, though in decline from its peak in the '60s and '70s, is still prevalent," Dr.Al-Himyary says. "More disturbing is that 22 percent of pregnant women in the United States still smoke."
Smoking is linked to prenatal deaths, low birth weights, premature births, sudden infant death syndrome and other reproductive complications. One study showed babies of smoking mothers were born with narrowed airways in underdeveloped lungs. (Source: U.S. Surgeon General's Office.)
"Cessation should be done with the counseling and medical monitoring provided by your physician," concludes Dr. Al-Himyary, who cares for patients at Kelsey-Seybold's St. Luke's Medical Tower and The Woodlands Clinic locations.
"Remember: Everybody's lungs get a favor when you quit smoking."
By Ali Al-Himyary, M.D.
- Set a quit date. The date could be a special date that carries meaning for you such as a birthday or anniversary; but don't delay quitting by waiting until New Year's Day.
- Get support from family, friends and co-workers.
- Anticipate nicotine withdrawal cravings and plan to meet the challenges, especially during the critical first two weeks. Mentally prepare yourself for the first two to three days when cravings will be the worst. Expect headaches and nervousness.
- Total abstinence is essential. Don't take even one puff.
- Avoid alcohol - it is strongly associated with relapse.
- Avoid other smokers.
- Use prescription medication such as the nicotine patch, nasal spray or gum, based on the advice of your Kelsey-Seybold doctor or pulmonary specialist.
- Gain lifestyle skills that help you cope with stress.
- Start exercising. Something as simple as a walking routine is very beneficial. It would be great if you could exercise 30 minutes a day, three to four days a week.
- Remember why you're quitting: You are determined to improve your health and the quality of life for you and your family. No addiction - tobacco or otherwise - is more important than this!