Smoking facts for Health Awareness Month

It's never too late to quit. Put down the cigarettes and take back your health now.

With March being Health Awareness Month, ER24 is urging people to stop smoking and to seek assistance should they have difficulty quitting on their own. According to doctor Yussuf Saloojee, executive director of the National Council Against Smoking, tobacco smoke contains over 4 500 chemicals, 200 of which are known poisons and 50 of which cause cancer.

Chemicals ingested by smokers include arsenic, ammonia, carbon monoxide, nicotine, radioactive substances and tar. So what do people risk every time they smoke?

Doctor Vernon Wessels from ER24 said smoking could cause anything from chronic bronchitis and emphysema to cancer of the lips, tongue, larynx, lungs and stomach. “In addition, it affects circulation by narrowing the smaller arteries. Smoking has significant impact on a person’s health and many of these effects only manifest later in life. Smoking also affects non-smokers, and the unborn foetus in the case of pregnant women. Besides the health effects, smoking is expensive,” said Wessels.

Saloojee said tobacco use caused or aggravated about 43 different diseases, including 17 types of cancer, heart attacks, stroke, and lung disease. “Smoking does not cause TB, but people with TB are at greater risk of death if they smoke. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of a stillbirth and miscarriage. Babies are more likely to be born underweight and die before their first birthday. Smokers die on average about eight to 10 years prematurely. Between a quarter to a half of all smokers will be killed by their addiction,” he said.

He added that tobacco use in South Africa had declined dramatically in recent years. “In 1994 about 32% of adults smoked cigarettes. By 2012 this had dropped to about 16%. Between 1999 and 2011 the prevalence of smoking among young people fell by over a quarter, from 23% in 1999 to 16.9% in 2011.”

According to Saloojee, the decline in tobacco use is largely due to the ban on tobacco advertising, successful government policies, smoke-free public areas, health warnings on tobacco products and the increase in taxes on tobacco. He added, however, that youngsters often experimented with tobacco. “Making cigarettes less affordable, less available and socially unacceptable is the key to reducing tobacco use among the youth,” he said.

And if you think smoking a hubbly bubbly is a better option, think again. According to Saloojee, a hubbly can cause cancer and heart disease just like cigarettes. “Sharing a water pipe also increases the risk of TB and herpes infections. All of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke are also found in hookah pipe smoke,” he said.

Quitting is not as hard as most people think either. “The reality is that most ex-smokers say quitting was not as difficult as they thought it would be. Once they have made a commitment to stop, they can do it,” he said.

“It is never too late or too early to quit. Smokers of all ages benefit from quitting. Soon after quitting, breathing improves, the smoker’s cough disappears and the risk of serious disease starts to fall. Even smokers who are already battling a disease can benefit from quitting. Stopping smoking is the single best thing a smoker can do for their health,” said the doctor.

Get free help and advice by calling the quit line on 011-720-3145. ER24’s emergency contact centre can be reached 24 hours a day on 084-124 for any medical emergency.

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