While the lockdown may have changed life as we knew it for the better or worse, but it has also brought about a miraculous development. According to a recent study, there has been a slow and steady decline in smoking in the country courtesy of the pandemic.
However, there is still quite a large chunk of the population susceptible to the risk of lung cancer, says Dr Anshu Punjabi, consultant-pulmonologist and sleep medicine expert, Fortis Hospital, Mulund, adding that there are a whopping 367 million tobacco users in India with 7.7 per cent of the population classified as ‘bidi’ smokers.
Add to this the rampant misinformation about smoking and you have a recipe for disaster. Dr Punjabi says, "What’s worrying is that majority of the regular smokers of tobacco, marijuana, and bidi are young adults. Many teenagers and adolescents fall victim to smoking without being fully aware of the repercussions on their health. What starts off as a feeling of joy or even acceptance among their peers eventually becomes an addiction that may continue into adulthood."
She also adds that most adult smokers often begin smoking in their teens which is more harmful than those who take up smoking later. She says, "What happens with adolescent smokers is that their lungs are still developing during adolescence, and tobacco only leads to decreased lung growth and function. Additionally, cigarettes have toxic substances such as Nicotine and Cyanide that can kill a person slowly. It is often the cumulative impact of smoking over many years that leads to lung cancer."
So, if you want to turn over a new leaf or inspire someone to quit smoking, here are some common myths that you should stop believing in STAT!
Myth: Secondhand smoke is not as bad as smoking.
Fact: Ermm... sorry to burst your bubble but the number of lung cancer cases among non-smokers is on the rise in India. Dr Punjabi agrees. She says, "Some studies have reported that around 51 per cent of lung cancer patients in India are passive smokers. This is primarily because of increased air pollution within the country. Polluted air and smoke cause change at a molecular level in the lungs, giving rise to such critical conditions. Secondhand or passive smoking, i.e. being around peers and partners who smoke, is another reason for this rising incidence."
Myth: Smoking does not affect you when you are outdoors.
Fact: Sometimes you can passively inhale and get the negative effects of smoking without actually being around a smoker. Yes, you can blame pollution for this.
Dr Punjabi says, "In densely populated metro cities, environmental factors such as air pollution exposes children to smoke and other toxins at a very young age. Inhaling secondhand smoke filled with Nicotine, toxic chemicals, and carcinogens is highly harmful to a person’s health. Secondhand smoking can lead to the development of health concerns such as bronchitis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), lung cancer, etc."
Myth: E-Cigarettes are a safer alternative to cigarettes.
Fact: Many people are under the wrong assumption that e-cigarettes are less harmful than traditional bidi or a cigarette. In reality, they are equally dangerous.
"They might not contain tobacco but have ultrafine particles that can be deeply inhaled into the lungs. These electronic objects also contain flavourings and chemicals such as Diacetyl which are harmful. Apart from these, one of the main components of an e-cigarette is Nicotine, which is responsible for addiction. The long-term effects and link with lung cancer of e-cigarettes are not accurately known yet. However, in the USA, many e-cigarette users have reported acute respiratory diseases and, in extreme cases, death," she says.
Myth: Traditional hookahs are better than bidis or cigarettes.
Fact: Hookahs are not safe either. The smoke that comes through the hookah pipe is unfiltered and detrimental to health.
The cooling and flavoured tobacco smoke of a hookah contains nicotine. It also requires charcoal to be burnt to heat the tobacco which creates toxic fumes just like a cigarette. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person takes 200 puffs on average during an hour-long hookah session. This is ten times more than the smoke inhaled by a cigarette smoker!
Another research by the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine reported that smoking a hookah delivers more than 2.5 times the amount the nicotine as cigarette smoke.
Well, now you know.
Smoking, in general, be it active or passive, increases your chances of contracting a serious illness. The chemicals in the smoke can harm the blood vessels and the heart making you more susceptible to a stroke. In fact, in many of the heart attack cases reported among young adults, smoking is a dominant factor.
Dr Punjabi adds, "Not only are there severe long term effects, but this habit can also cause short-term effects in youngsters such as various respiratory ailments, lousy stamina, higher risk of COVID infection, kidney and bladder issues, high blood pressure, amongst others. Therefore, quitting is the most effective way in which you can save your own life and others."