Although most South Africans are aware of at least some of the health risks associated with smoking tobacco, this does not prevent an estimated six million people from lighting up every day.
Dr Frans Skosana, a physician who practises at Netcare Olivedale Hospital in Johannesburg, says that, although medical studies repeatedly show that regular smoking is more likely than not to negatively impact our health at some point in our lives, we choose to ignore the dangers and continue with the habit.
According to Dr Skosana, who specialises in pulmonology, a medical specialty that deals with diseases of the lungs and respiratory tract, smoking is considered the second most important risk factor for deaths worldwide. A recent study suggests smokers have an approximately threefold risk of premature death than those who have never smoked before and will on average die some 10 years earlier than non-smokers.
“These are shocking statistics. However, while most South Africans are aware that smoking poses a substantial risk to their health, many continue with the habit. Tragically, we bury our heads in the sand, and mistakenly believe that illness cannot happen to us,” notes Dr Skosana.
“The truth is that while some individuals who smoke live to an old age, cigarette smoke contains more than 4 000 chemicals, many of which are toxic, and these negatively impact the health of most smokers at one point or another. In other words, if you are a moderate to heavy smoker, the chances are high that it is going to make you ill.”
Dr Skosana believes that the government has been playing an important role in highlighting the dangers of lighting up. South Africa was one of the first countries in the world to ban the habit in public places in 2000. “Now we as South Africans need to face the facts, take responsibility for our own health, and say no to smoking,” he advises.
Smoking is not only linked to lung cancer, but also increases the risks of developing some 50 other kinds of diseases, says Dr Skosana. These include:
- Heart disease
- Colon cancer
And do not make the mistake of thinking that puffing on cigarettes will not harm you if you are young. Dr Skosana says that individuals of less advanced age can also suffer health catastrophes such as strokes and cancer. The World Health Organization (WHO) observes that smoking negatively impacts young people's physical fitness in terms of both performance and endurance even in those trained in competitive sports.
“Just inhaling cigarette smoke can be harmful to health, so avoid smoking near your children and other people. In my experience, children who are exposed to second-hand smoke are more likely to develop allergies like asthma and colds. Exposure to second-hand smoke in pregnancy has been linked to problems such as stillborn births, miscarriages and low birth weights,” advises Dr Skosana.
Werner Teichert, a clinical psychologist at Netcare Olivedale Hospital, explains that tobacco contains nicotine, which is a highly addictive drug, and many people consequently have difficulty giving it up. Regular smokers soon start to crave nicotine when they are without it.
“It can be useful to understand a little about the addiction process if you want to give up smoking. Nicotine is a stimulant, also known as an ‘upper’, so when you smoke it increases activity in the nervous system, which might increase alertness or even relieve anxiety in the short term. However, when these effects subside, the individual might experience lethargy or a sense of ‘flatness’. This reinforces the need to take the drug again,” observes Teichert.
“Your body and brain come to need the drug in order to feel better. In other words smoking is not making you feel good, but is actually preventing you from suffering nicotine withdrawal and feeling down.”
The good news is that while smoking is a tough habit to kick, and giving up requires commitment, there are a number of programmes and nicotine replacement products on the market that can assist one to kick the habit. A number of highly effective medications are also available on prescription.
The withdrawal from nicotine is strongest for the first few days after giving up and this is often when people relapse. However, the withdrawal symptoms start to subside, and the chances of beating the habit increase exponentially with each passing day. You soon start to enjoy the many benefits of being smoke free including having more energy.
Teichert affirms that there are numerous benefits to stopping smoking. A few of these include:
- Blood pressure and pulse rate return to normal within hours
- Blood circulation improves
- Reduction in chances of developing lung cancer, heart disease or suffering a stroke
- Reduction in feelings of anxiety and restlessness
- Improved concentration
- Better sleep
- Lung function recovery
- Improved immune system that is able to fight off infections better
Issued by: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare
Contact : Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney or Sarah Wilson
Telephone: (011) 469 3016
Email: [email protected], [email protected] or [email protected]