Tobacco is harmful, we all know it and accept it to a large extent, but tobacco use continues to grow and kill millions of people worldwide. Why?… because it’s a myth that the ill-effects of tobacco are well-known.
Myths surrounding tobacco use have stayed despite numerous factual confirmations about its various adverse effects and health warnings, while new myths seem to be getting added regularly largely because of human attempts to justify their addictive behaviour or humouring them through community and social media jokes.
There are approximately 600 ingredients in cigarettes which create more than 7,000 chemicals upon burning. At least 69 of these chemicals are known to cause cancer, and many are toxic. It is also a fact that tobacco kills about half of its users, making up 8 million deaths each year worldwide.
Unless we acknowledge myths for myths and humour in WhatsApp and social media platforms as weak attempts to justify harmful habits, facts about the risks get diluted and we surrender to peer pressure and social modelling!
Myths about Tobacco use:
Safer/lighter tobacco use practices: Many feel that occasional smoking/smoking lights/smoking with filters/smoking half cigarettes does not harm, the truth is that using/smoking tobacco in any form is harmful. Smokers subconsciously adjust their smoking to compensate for the perceived safe use thereby increasing the intensity of inhalation or number of puffs. Also, light cigarettes send the same amount of tar to the lungs that a regular cigarette does so slim does not mean healthy.
Positive effects of tobacco use: Smoking relieves stress/helps in weight loss/relieves constipation – Transient effect of increased dopamine in the reward centre of the brain is the cause of addiction for nicotine. There is no relief from stress or tension, but relief from withdrawal anxiety and increase in stress chemicals like adrenaline due to smoking cause higher anxiety symptoms like an increase in blood pressure, heart rate and respiration. The other so-called positive effects on health are more due to conditioning and come with the major downside of loss of health instead of improvement. Imagine that you are keeping your weight in check while risking faster ageing and appearance of wrinkles, bad breath, stained teeth, reduced immunity, higher irritability, reduced fertility, cardiovascular diseases and cancer – all of which you thought were related to weight gain!
HTPs/ e-cigarettes/vaping: The belief that e-cigarettes are safe is unfounded, that they are safer than traditional cigarettes, we don’t know yet. The solvents and chemicals used in e-cigarettes can have long term harmful side effects including effects on liver and retina which are not directly caused by tobacco itself. More importantly, children and young adults who wouldn’t have smoked tobacco because of known risks and social or family’s displeasure have picked up vaping as a cool thing thinking it’s harmless – well, it’s not.
Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT): The treatment with NRT is ineffective, harmful and like replacing one addiction with another. The fact is that NRT replaces only a small amount of nicotine found in traditional tobacco products and with a mechanism for slow and sustained release can mitigate craving gradually. It also protects against other 5000 plus chemicals found in tobacco products which cause heart and lung diseases and long-term consumption will still lower chances of smoke and tobacco chewing related health risks. The use of more than one NRT product simultaneously or smoking along with the use of NRT is also not known to cause additional harm.
Psychiatric treatment for de-addiction: The psychiatric treatments are more harmful than using tobacco whether to deal with stress or withdrawal is also a commonly-held belief. Somehow, people are comfortable going to a pan-shop to buy bidi/cigarettes or taking a drag from their friend’s stick if they are upset instead of seeking psychological help. Most people with addictions have difficulty in managing stress and find themselves seeking comfort in long-held habits, consulting a psychiatrist may not only help with addiction problems but is also useful in figuring out associated psychological issues that come with their own set of negative health effects on body and mind. Most psychosomatic problems are a result of inadequate management of stress and tobacco use may be only the tip of the iceberg.
If we look beyond our generally held beliefs about our lifestyle and habit, we can realise how often we just overlook the obvious because it’s easy to not change. Many patients say that they are not addicted and they can stop whenever they want but won’t do it because they like the way things are. Fact is that if we tried, we may like things better once we can make the effort to start living healthy. Taking help and guidance is not a sign of being sick, but a sign that one is healthy enough to understand the need to improve.
Say NO to Tobacco, Stay healthy!
— Dr Jyoti Kapoor is a Gurugram-based Psychiatrist, Psychotherapist and Writer