The slow burn…

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Mein zindagi ka saath nibhata chala gaya, har fikr ko dhuen mein udata chala gaya”

Oh! How does one resist the charm of the evergreen Dev Anand on screen with the soulful voice of Mohammad Rafi telling us one of the “best” cope for all the “fikrs” engulfing us? What a swag!

Though dare I say, what a smokescreen the song is, literally and figuratively.

I don't really need to list out the effects of smoking on our mind and body. But, but, but ... maybe I do! So I will embark on this article with the sole mission to scare my readers with the hope that the effects of tobacco on our bodies are clearly imprinted on their minds.


Those who find themselves habituated to this substance may ask: what's the whole fuss about?

They may defend themselves with terms like YOLO, give examples of addiction to other substances. Well Sirs and Madams and everyone, you are absolutely correct! However the notable difference is, tobacco is ruthless!

While addiction to tea/ coffee affects the digestive system and sleep; alcohol has a greater impact on liver and brain, tobacco does its job thoroughly and completely, not sparing a single body system in its aftermath!

Tobacco is a major risk factor and independent causative agent for a vast number of chronic health disorders i.e., the Non Communicable Diseases (NCDs).

As per WHO GATS (Global Adult Tobacco Survey India) report, around 35% of adults (47.9% males and 20.3% females) in India use tobacco in some form or the other. Use of smokeless tobacco is more prevalent in India (21%)
Why subject the body to this toxicity?
Is exposure to this really needed?

While tobacco has around 500+ harmful substances as its components, the marauder-in-chief is nicotine. Nicotine gets absorbed within seconds into the bloodstream, reaching the brain to give an immediate psychoactive effect - stimulation of the reward centres of our brain by release of dopamine. Our brains and nerves “talk” to each other through a host of chemicals, mainly acetylcholine(Ach). Nicotine mimics Ach, thus influencing our brain functions leading to mood changes, emotional upheaval, relaxation etc. Nicotine is responsible for the addictive action of tobacco too. Body gradually develops tolerance to nicotine, thus one keeps increasing the number of “suttas” per day.


The other components that are equally devastating are Tar and Carbon monoxide.

Tar is the sticky, black substance that coats lungs giving them the black, plastic like appearance.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that decreases the amount of oxygen that is carried by our blood by blocking the oxygen binding sites on the haemoglobin molecule. Thus the oxygen delivery to various organs is hampered, causing organ damage in the long run.

Not a single organ is spared in the aftermath of smoking
Smoking damages every organ of our body

The following are the effects on various organ systems:

The airways:

  1. Starting from the oral cavity right up to the smallest airways (alveoli) and the diaphragm, the entire respiratory system is severely impacted in chronic smokers.
  2. Poor dental hygiene
  3. Chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases; e.g., emphysema
  4. Asthma
  5. Diminished lung capacity

The circulatory system :

Chronic smoking leads to narrowing of blood vessels throughout the body with the expected outcome of heart ailments, stroke and even sudden cardiac death. Similar action on vessels of limbs leads to peripheral vascular diseases. Also the toxic chemicals predispose the blood to clot faster with the net outcome being increased morbidity and mortality.


Metabolic disorders:

Tobacco consumption is an independent risk factor for high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity and autoimmune disorders

Dental issues:

  1. Yellowing of teeth
  2. Loosening of teeth
  3. Gum infections
  4. Increased teeth sensitivity

Delayed recovery from infections and injuries:

Tobacco weakens the immune system, thus one gets repeated infections which may have a protracted recovery phase. Wound healing is compromised as a result of inadequate supply of oxygen and nutrients to the injured tissues. This plays a significant role in recovery post surgical procedures too.

Vision abnormalities:

Reduced blood supply can cause retinal degeneration (macular degeneration) leading to blindness.

Hearing loss:

Reduced blood supply to the inner can cause partial or complete deafness.

Bone-density loss:

osteoporosis and recurrent fractures.

Infertility:

tobacco and smoking leads to decreased sperm count. Also in females it causes difficulty in conceiving.

Cancers:

Every organ of our body is affected by this malady as a consequence of tobacco and tobacco products! A picture is worth thousand words,, so let this image speak for itself.

And yet we consume tobacco!

Tobacco and smoking during pregnancy:

For the would be mother:

  1. Repeated miscarriages and still births
  2. Ectopic pregnancy: the fetus is implanted outside of the uterine cavity
  3. PIH: there is increased risk of hypertension during pregnancy.
  4. Placental abnormalities

For the unborn baby:

  1. Preterm delivery
  2. Small for gestational age
  3. Congenital anomalies and developmental defects

For the young infant/kids who were exposed to tobacco smoke during the intrauterine phase or as passive smoking (second-hand smoking) from family members:

  1. Stunted growth
  2. Higher risk of allergies and asthma
  3. Higher risk of respiratory infections
  4. Higher risk of being diagnosed with diabetes mellitus, hypertension and cancer as adults.


Whatever is mentioned above is an uncontested fact. Nothing new is said here, and almost all adults are aware of the consequences of tobacco consumption. So we need to ask ourselves a few simple questions -

  1. Is this the only way to overcome the mental blocks?
  2. Why is it so difficult to give up, though the horrors are common knowledge?
  3. We owe our near and dear ones a clean environment, do we not?

No one should judge an adult for their personal choices; however, at times a little dressing down is needed even for adults so that they might course-correct.

And  if you are not able to quit smoking, have some heart as you are in the august company of Sir Mark Twain who very famously said “Giving up smoking is the easiest thing in the world. I know because I have done it thousands of times”
Dr Pritee Mehta

Dr Pritee Mehta