It is about time Indians quit smoking

Actress Priyanka Chopra is seen smoking on a yacht in Mumbai in July.

Ravi, 15, can hardly speak about the time he tried to impress peers at his new college by smoking cigarettes stolen from his father. For, 30 years later, Ravi’s chronic cough and laryngitis turned out to be symptoms of throat cancer.

Despite 38 sessions of radiation therapy and countless hours at the doctor's office, Ravi’s larynx could not be saved. He now has a stoma – an opening – in his neck that allows him to breathe, and a laryngeal implant that helps him speak.

Ravi is just one person in an expanding population of smokers worldwide. China, which had 182 million smokers in 1980, had nearly 282 million in 2012. Russia, where about one-third of the people smoke, has added one million smokers since 1980 though the government there is cracking down.

The U.S. has seen smokers drop to around 14.9 per cent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Meanwhile, India has gained 35 million smokers — bringing its total to 110 million — even though smoking rates have fallen from 19 to 13 per cent of the population.

Globally, the number of smokers has climbed from 721 million in 1980 to 967 million in 2012, thanks to countries like India, China and Russia.

According to the NYU Center for the Study of Asian American Health, though Asian Indians had the lowest smoking rates among Asians (men: 10.1 percent; women 0.7 percent), the men born in India had higher smoking rates than Indian men born here.

Most smokers do not realize how addictive cigarettes are. Since the damage is seen only in the long term, it is difficult to gauge the toll on one’s health. That's why the World Health Organization calls tobacco a "gradual killer."

Researchers have found up to 4,000 chemicals and pesticides inside cigarettes.

Inhaled through the nose, tobacco smoke passes over the sensitive area around the olfactory nerve. Since the blood-brain barrier is only five cells thick there (a capable barrier requires eight), smokers risk many vaporized chemicals swiftly entering the brain.

Heavy metals also stay in the brain for a lifetime. Dementia, especially Alzheimer’s disease, has also been linked to lifelong smoking.

Stress plays a clear role in keeping smokers smoking. Additionally, there is growing evidence that psychological distress in adolescence is related to the onset of smoking.

Research has confirmed that a smoking mother's breast milk contains nicotine. Smoking has been consistently related to blood and brain disorders linked to blood supply – across genders, cultures, and active and passive smokers. The risk drops when smoking is stopped.

Cigarette smoking usually begins in early or middle adolescence, but these problems show up later, in middle or late adulthood. Despite knowing the risks and being the target of many smoking prevention programs, more smokers are from this set of people. Smoking is also damages the heart.

According to the American Heart Association, cigarette smoking is the most important, preventable cause of premature death in the U.S. It accounts for more than 440,000 of the more than 2.4 million annual deaths.

Atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries, is the leading contributor to the high number of deaths in smokers.

Nicotine can cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, flow of blood to the heart and a narrowing of arteries. Nicotine may also contribute to the hardening of arterial walls, which, in turn, may lead to a heart attack. It can stay in your body for six to eight hours.

Smoking also causes platelets to clump together, making blood thicker and stickier, and so harder for your heart to pump.

Cigarette smoke is linked to an increase in LDL, the "bad" cholesterol, and stored fat called triglycerides tjat cause a waxy plaque to build up in arteries. At the same time, it lowers HDL, or "good" cholesterol, the kind that prevents plaque from forming.

Children of smokers have many more respiratory infections than do children of nonsmokers.

Smokers who give up smoking soon get coronary heart disease at rates similar to that seen in nonsmokers. Cessation of smoking is the best and the only option to a healthy heart. But it is challenging to quit.

Those trying to flee smoking face many challenges, including nicotine withdrawal, cravings, increased stress, negative mood and weight gain. Studies in non-smoking populations show that yoga reduces stress and improves weight control.

In one study, 11 men who smoked underwent meditation and yoga interventions showed significant decline in damaged DNA that could otherwise be passed on to their children. In another, 55 women undergoing cognitive behavioral therapy for smoking cessation were split into two groups – a twice-weekly program of Vinyasa yoga or a general health and wellness program. The women who did yoga exhibited greater abstinence, less anxiety, and improved feelings of health.

These studies suggest that certain yoga and meditation practices involving breath techniques may offer both behavioral and psychological benefits to those trying to quit.

Ancient wisdom definitely helps people ensure a smoke-free life.


Indranill Basu Ray is staff cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist. at St. Francis Hospital, Memphis, Tennessee.

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