Let’s cut to the chase; smoking is one of the nastiest habits in the world today. It’s the one habit that not only impacts the smoker, but impacts everyone else around the smoker.

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First, the nasty part. Smoke stinks, whether it’s cigarettes, pipes, cigars, marijuana,… you name it, it smells. Smoke wafts everywhere; if there’s one smoker in the room, everyone knows it, whether that person is smoking or not. It gets on people’s clothes; it gets in their hair. It burns people’s eyes. And it stays around for what seems like forever; even non-smokers have to go home, take off their clothes, and throw them in another room, then wash down before going on with their business. There’s nothing worse than smelling smoke on someone else, and, strangely enough, smokers can’t smell it.

Second, the physical health part. We talked about the smell, both in clothes and on the body. Smokers skin looks pallid and wan; most of the time, it looks lifeless. Smokers have bad breath, and sometimes their teeth are yellow. Smoker’s teeth get dull, and if they smoke a lot, their teeth can turn a yellowish-brown.

The voice of a smoker is easy to discern, as it takes on an unnatural huskiness, no matter how high the person’s voice used to be. Smokers cough a lot; that’s because they have problems breathing. Smokers get sick a lot because their body’s immune system breaks down. Some smokers finish a cigarette, and then light up another one. And cigarette smoking can lead to other problems such as harder drugs, alcoholism, and diseases such as emphysema (only caused by smoking) and cancer.

The first question is why people start smoking to begin with. For both sexes, the reasons seem to be: peer pressure; rebellion; want to look older; want to look cool; something to do. For women, they have two other reasons: to stay thin and to help get rid of depression, which is actually more prevalent in men than in women.

The second question is what is it about smoking that makes it so hard to stop. The main component in cigarettes made from tobacco is nicotine. When ingested through cigarettes, it goes directly into the brain and stimulates a neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Dopamine controls many brain functions, one of those being pleasure. When someone pulls a drag on a cigarette, it raises the dopamine levels in the brain and brings a pleasurable feeling. The problem is that the feeling doesn’t last long, only a matter of seconds, and the only way to get it back is to continue smoking.

Cigarettes on their own are bad enough. When other factors are added, the effects from smoking can be even more intense.

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There’s a direct relationship between alcohol and cigarettes. Alcohol gets into the central nervous system and the blood stream, going throughout the body, including the brain. When it’s first ingested, it acts as a stimulant to the brain and, if someone is a smoker, immediately sends out a signal that smoking will bring even more pleasure, especially since the stimulant in alcohol wears off quickly, and then relaxes the body so that it can receive the extra pleasure that cigarettes bring. This explains why some people only smoke when they drink.

Then there’s the strange relationship between cigarettes and caffeine, especially coffee since it’s got the most caffeine in it. Caffeine is definitely a stimulant, but it works to give the body energy. Smoking not only calms some of that energy down, but it cuts into what’s known as the “half-life” of caffeine, which, in essence, means the effects of caffeine don’t last as long with smokers as it does with non-smokers. This stimulates the body to want more caffeine, which means more cups of coffee, and that, along with the draw of constantly smoking, sets off an interesting daily cycle that many smokers just can’t break.

Smoking is also a world wide problem, and actually is more of a problem elsewhere than in the United States. There’s not one single state in the U.S. that has a smoking ratio higher than any other nation in the world. Though smoking has gone down in developed nations over the years, in emerging nations it’s increasing at a dramatic rate. It’s estimated that there are more than a billion people smoking around the world, 730,000 new smokers every year, which equates to 1.4 new smokers every minute.

The scary thing is that it’s not only adults this impacts. Children as young as 12 are regularly beginning their lives as smokers, though the median age is 15 years old. It’s estimated that 50% of boys around the age of 16 in Russia are smokers. In China a third of junior high aged boys smoke regularly. Between 80,000 and 100,000 children worldwide start smoking every day, upwards of 14% of all new smokers.

What kinds of problems does smoking cause? Smoking is the number one preventable cause of emphysema and cancer, especially lung cancer, but other cancers such as mouth, throat, esophageal, bladder, pancreas, kidneys and stomach cancer are prevalent. Lung cancer is the number one killer of all cancers in the world, passing breast cancer in 1987, the number three killer in the world, and 90% of all people who get lung cancer got it from smoking.

Smoking can make bones brittle; it can stain teeth. Smoking is a leading contributor to heart disease, heart attacks and strokes. Smoking can lead to pneumonia and worsen problems for people with asthma. Smoking takes an average of twelve years off a person’s expected lifespan. Smoking can acerbate problems with diabetes. In pregnant women, smoking can increase the chances of infection, stillbirths, premature births, and low birth weight, and can impact their children’s lives with respiratory problems, asthma, and a predisposition towards smoking later in their futures.

Smoking is the leading contributor in leading people to trying hard drugs. Health care related costs of smoking are in the hundreds of billions each year.

That’s a lot of bad news; smoking is bad. So, what about giving up smoking? What can be done about it?

Let’s look at some realities. Quitting smoking isn’t easy. Most smokers have tried to quit at one point in their life. Most people try to quit cold turkey; the success rate isn’t anything to be proud of. Many people try to quit smoking while still holding on to other vices such as alcohol and too much caffeine; that doesn’t work either. At least half the people who try to quit smoking have to try multiple times.

There are also side effects to deal with. At least 99% of all smokers who try to quit experience at least one side effect. Side effects can include irritability, restlessness, anxiety, anger, tremors, sweating, difficulty breathing, and depression. It’s not a pleasant experience, but a necessary one, as the body has to learn how to be responsible for things that cigarettes either took over or altered. The good news is that if one quits early enough, it’s not only easier to get over, but in a relatively short period of time the body reverts back to the state before smoking, if a person stays healthy during that time, and their mortality rate goes back to the same rate as someone who’s never smoked.

There are multiple ways to help with smoking cessation, besides going cold turkey, both good and bad. Some of those ways are: group therapy; individual therapy; nicotine gum or patches; herbal remedies and supplements; pharmaceuticals; hypnosis; acupuncture; and laser therapy. Each one of these has its successes and failures, as well as some dangers. There is no one preferred method for smoking cessation, but a combination of methods is usually recommended for the best success, as well as having a plan and some kind of support group.

And a little bit more good news for you is just how fast your body might recover. In as few as 20 minutes, blood pressure can return to normal. After 8 hours, oxygen levels will return to normal. If you can make it through the first three days, your rate of success jumps nearly 40%. Some psychologists say that success in quitting smoking, and other minor addictions, often depends on cycles of six minutes, which is how long a craving will last, and if you can endure that period of time, no matter how often it comes up, you’ll be successful in your efforts to quit smoking.

Every year, the World Health Organization holds an event they call “World No Tobacco Day”, which is near the end of the month of May. Their goal is to bring awareness to the problems of smoking, encourage more information about its dangers to all peoples of the world, and help set up programs in all nations to help people quit smoking. It’s a good day to try to stop smoking, along with millions of other people around the world.

Why wait; stop smoking now and start living a better, healthier life.

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