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For the sake of your health

2010/01/06 Mathumaalini Subramaniyam, 16, Malacca WHY would anyone want to be a smoker? I decided to talk to Dr Sumathi, 34, who runs a polyclinic in Malacca. I asked her why people smoke. Dr Sumathi said people smoke because of stress, being influenced by advertising and also due to peer pressure. She also explained that non-smokers who inhale secondary cigarette smoke are passively smoking. It is called involuntary or secondhand smoking. The non-smoker breathes in side stream smoke from the burning tip of the smokers cigarette and mainstream smoke that has been exhaled by the smokers. When people smoke, the air around them becomes polluted. This is called environmental tobacco smoke (ETS). Dr Sumathi mentioned the effects of ETS on passive smokers. Some of the immediate effects are eye irritations, headaches, coughs, sore throats, dizziness, and nausea. An individual with asthma will experience a significant decline in lung function if he or she is exposed to ETS. Short-term exposure to ETS has measurable effects on the heart. In the long term, non-smokers, who are passive smokers, have a 25 per cent increased risk of heart disease and lung cancer. Passive smoking also causes respiratory disease, cot deaths, middle ear disease and asthmatic attacks among children. Asked about the chemicals in a cigarette, Dr Sumathi said that there are 4,000 toxic chemicals that smokers inhale and exhale. One is ammonia, which helps you absorb nicotine and keeps you hooked on smoking, she said. Then there is tar, a sticky brown substance which gets deposited in lungs and the respiratory system, and later causes lung and throat cancers. Nicotine is more addictive than heroin or cocaine. It also reaches the brain within 10 seconds of inhalation. Benzene is a cancer-causing chemical which is used to make pesticides, detergent,

and petrol. Methoprene is used to get rid of fleas on your pets. When I asked about the health effects of smoking, she identified cancer as the main one. This is directly caused by benzene, benzopyrene and tar. Other health effects are bronchitis and emphysema.

Dr Sumathi added that every eight seconds someone dies of tobacco use. Smoking causes 80 per cent of all deaths from lung cancer, 80 per cent of all deaths from bronchitis and emphysema, and 17 per cent from heart disease.

The sad part, the doctor said, was that more than 80 per cent of smokers pick up the habit as teenagers. Dr Sumathi said that to curb smoking, smokers must think of its effects on others and themselves. Peers should advise their friends to stop smoking. Shops must not sell cigarettes to teenagers below 18, she said, The Government should increase the number of anti-smoking campaigns. She advised teenage smokers to opt for healthy activities such as sports, indoor games, watching TV and reading books.