What’s in a Cigarette? The Personal, Social and Environmental Cost of Cigarette Smoking Today
“Smoking is injurious to health!” – a statement we are all familiar with. However, individuals who continue to smoke in spite of this awareness, do so for one reason or another. According to World Health Organization (2011), smoking kills six million people annually worldwide, and 80% of these deaths occur in middle and low socio-economic countries. Cross-sectional studies conducted in Pakistan have revealed a rising trend of cigarette smoking in the male population (Gilani& Leon, 2003; Rozi, Butt & Akhtar, 2007).
Cigarette smoking and secondhand smoke are associated with a number of diseases and environmental pollution. This article highlights the negative effects of cigarette smoking on the health of smokers, their family members and society at large.
Smoking primarily harms the individuals indulging in the habit themselves. Within a single cigarette 4,000 toxic chemicals have been identified, and among these 60 chemicals are proven carcinogens (Hecht, 2002). Research studies have identified a positive relationship between cigarette smoking and diseases, including heart attacks, hypertension, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, stroke, among others.
Furthermore, carcinogens present in cigarettes react with cell DNA to promote mutations; consequently cells are unable to maintain their normal biology and function (Hecht, 2002). A person who smokes is at ten-fold greater risk for lung cancer than a nonsmoker (Potter, Perry, Stockert, & Hall, 2013). Additionally, cigarette smoking also negatively impacts the psychological and emotional health of smokers. Several studies have highlighted that life stressors often predispose to the smoking habit (Kassel, Stroud&Paronis, 2003;Liu,2003).
Initially, smokers often report reduced stress after cigarette puffing, due to nicotine that is present within cigarettes which activates the body’s stress response. However, this stress release is temporary and once an individual becomes dependent upon it, they often experience higher stress levels during non-smoking periods (Parrott, 1999). Moreover, dependency on nicotine has also been related to emotional changes in the smokers, such as irritability and anger during abstinence.
Secondly, the adverse impact of cigarette smoking are not restricted to smokers themselves but extend to their families as well. Harmful effects on the family members’ health may arise by inhalation of second hand smoke. A study by Jones et al. (2011) identified parental smoking as a major risk factor for lower respiratory tract infection in young children. Likewise, smoking is also a significant contributor towards childhood asthma.
Babies are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of cigarette smoking when exposed to it during their intrauterine life. If a pregnant woman is even exposed to secondhand smoke, it can greatly impact the health of the unborn baby. It can result in low-birth-weight babies, preterm deliveries, babies with reduced lung function and childhood leukemia.
Additionally, parental smoking is a strong and significant determinant for smoking adoption by children and young people (Leonardi-Bee, Jere& Britton, 2011). Children from their early ages consider parents as role models, and they continue to imitate their parents’ tangible and non-tangible habits. Therefore, if a child observes parental smoking, the child is likely to indulge in smoking habits early in his/her life.
Lastly, environmental tobacco smoke is an important source of atmospheric pollution. A study conducted by Pope III, 2002, showed associations between ambient fine particulate air pollution and cigarette smoking. In the same study robust positive effects were observed following reduction in air pollutants. The above mentioned study affirmed the devastating effects of cigarette smoking on atmospheric pollution and finally to human health. This shows that smoking in an enclosed environment is highly dangerous; not only because of its contribution towards passive smoking but also due to trapping of smoke particles onto surrounding clothes, drapes and furnishings.
In conclusion, cigarette smoking is one of the foremost preventable causes of deaths and diseases across the globe. It affects the physical and psychological health of smokers and those around them. Additionally, environmental studies have identified a positive correlation between cigarette smoking and atmospheric pollution. The above mentioned ill-effects of cigarette smoking to human and environmental health are well known.
Yet, tobacco in the form of cigarettes and other hazardous products is readily available worldwide. It is a major concern for resource limited countries like Pakistan because of the associated economic burden. Strategies recommended by WHO “MPOWER”seem promising to preserve lives of innocent population and in order to prevent non-communicable diseases worldwide. MPOWER stands for monitoring tobacco use, prevention policies to protect people from tobacco smoke, offer help to quit smoking, warn about the danger of tobacco smoking, enforce bans on tobacco advertisements and sponsorship, and raise taxes on tobacco products (WHO, 2011).
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