Tag Archives: smoking dangers

Video Demonstrates How Smoking Destroys Your Lungs

Lung cancer accounts for approximately one third of cancer deaths in the American population.

Over $10 billion is spent annually on the diagnosis and treatment of lung cancer.

The majority of people with this disease are smokers, but former smokers and people exposed to secondhand smoke are still at risk.

What Smoking Does to Your Lungs

Smoking and exposure to secondhand smoke causes the invasion of over 4,000 chemicals into the lungs through the mouth and nose. These chemicals are deposited as tar in the lungs, sticking to the cilia. The function of the “hair-like” cilia is to keep the airways and lungs clean. When covered with tar, the cilia dies off. Germs and dirt do not get cleaned out and there is an accumulation of mucous. “Smoker’s Cough” is attributed to dead cilia. When dirty mucous clogs the airways and blocks the inhalation and exhalation of breath, a person’s reaction is to cough.

Long Term Effects of Smoking on the Lungs

Smoking destroys the body in many ways. A few of the long term consequences to the lungs caused by smoking and continued exposure to secondhand smoke includes:

  • emphysema
  • cancer
  • bronchitis
  • asthma
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

To see the difference in functioning between healthy lungs and tumor-covered lungs, watch the following video:

The Effects of Smoking on Your Health, Wallet & Family

The Surgeon General notes smoking-related deaths to be the most preventable cause of death in the United States.

One in four Americans smoke cigarettes, and each year, over 400,000 people die from smoking-related diseases.

The habit of smoking also leads to tremendous financial and interpersonal relationship strains.

What Smoking Does to Your Health

Each puff of cigarette draws over 4,000 chemicals into the lungs and through the body. Continuous exposure to smoke and these chemicals leads to cellular changes in the body’s tissue, eventually causing cancers such as throat and lung cancer.

Smokers’ hearts beat an extra 20 to 25 times per minutes, increasing the risk of heart attack. There is also a 15% higher chance of a smoker having a deadly stroke or heart attack than a non-smoker.

Cigarette smoke contains carbon monoxide, a lethal substance that decreases oxygen levels in the skin, brain, and other organs. The results are a reduced ability to comprehend, an increase in wrinkly-greyed skin, and a significant reduction in energy.

Smoking increase the body’s mucous production, which then increases the chances of bacteria and viruses to multiply. This leads to a smoker experiencing more colds, flus, and cases of bronchitis than non-smokers. Additionally, smoking affects the white blood cells’ functions, leaving smokers with a harder time fighting illness.

What Smoking Does to Your Wallet

All smokers are fully aware of the price of cigarettes when they purchase each pack. But if the price of each pack of cigarettes purchased over a span of 15 years for a smoker with a half-pack a day habit, the sum would total over $16,000.

In addition to the daily cost of this addiction, smokers pay more for health insurance due to the increased health consequences.

What Smoking Does to Your Family

Smoking has dire effects on family members: spouses of smokers are 20% more likely to contract lung disease due to the presence of second hand smoke. The exposure to second hand smoke also causes illness and death in children.

Families also endure extreme emotional trauma when a loved one becomes ill or dies because of smoking-related diseases.

The Real Cost of Smoking

Smoking Bans – Smokers Not Hire Ready

Employers are using smoking vs. non-smoking as one of the criteria to hire employees.

Whether a person smokes or not could be a deciding factor even before you have been E-Verified.

For smokers looking for gainful employment, their addiction makes the possibilities even harder than they may realize.

Fair Debate for Smokers and Non-Smokers

Smokers are willing and able to work in smoke-free environments and can put up with it in order to work.

Once that craving hits though, they will sneak outside on breaks to have a few puffs of nicotine until quitting time. The working smoker’s perception is they have the best of both worlds – a smoke-free environment on the inside of the workplace and a chance to smoke on the outside during working hours.

The non-smokers want to work in smoke-free environments. A smoking policy inside an employees place of employment will provide an environment free of second hand smoke … except:

What if the employee who smokes reeks of cigarettes

What if the second hand smoke finds its way through open windows, doors, and hallways from around the building.

What if smokers begin smoking in bathrooms, or stairwells?

Then an environment is not truly smoke free and for employees a non smoking is really non-existent.

The Win/Win/Lose

Hospitals and other smoke-free conscious employers are pulling out the stops for justifying their no smoking policies.

With the current healthcare reform policy, employers are justifying the testing of potential employees.  Nicotine tests similar to random drug testing are qualified and being administered.

If non-smokers are hired it is less likely the employee will be hospitalized for ailments related to lung cancer. Insurance cost savings is the rationale for these tests because they can save on costly medical expenses in the future.

Medical costs will be considerably less because symptoms related to asthma, bronchial infections, and allergies will not exist.  Families will be healthier and have less cause to visit the doctor or fill a prescription.  Insurance premiums will not have to cover as many catastrophic illnesses related to smoking and second hand smoke.

If a ban on hiring smokers is embraced by businesses in all 50 states, a long road of tough economic times will be facing those that smoke if they refuse to quit.  Smokers will feel defeated not because they lack the skills to perform their jobs but lack the skills to quit smoking to gain and keep their jobs.  Being a smoker will have a stigma that has obvious and detrimental consequences.

Quit While You Can

These bans are the sign of the times and smokers need to prepare to move with them.  If you are currently unemployed, be aware that your smoking addiction is a possible criterion as to whether you land the next job.

Still working and smoking? Higher insurance rates especially for smokers and other unnecessary risk takers are certain to be the norm. Cessation Programs may have some provisions that give you a timeline to quit before your insurance rates and premiums are dramatically increased.

An important part of your life may be your career.  Do not let smoking be the thing that ends it.

References:

  1. WHO POLICY ON NON-RECRUITMENT OF SMOKERS OR OTHER TOBACCO USERS
  2. Smokers Not Hired

New Zealand, Clearly Becoming Smoke-Free

If you want to stop smoking then pack your bag and fly over to New Zealand.

While you are there New Zealand tobacco regulatory agencies will offer you the facts on smoking dangers and by 2017 you may have to leave the country to buy tobacco products.

New Zealand is one of the many countries incorporating smoking bans, and like Canada they are banning smoking in your car.

Under the Influence While Driving

In New Zealand now you could be fined for smoking while driving in your car.

If you are a cigarette smoker you may be asking, “Do they fine people if they are not driving, but just sitting by the side of the road with the car ignition off?”

Or you might even ask, “Is there a smoking airbag that will explode if I am smoking in my car?”

Seriously, it does matter if you smoke while driving. You are polluting the air around you with second hand smoke. Windows up, windows down; it doesn’t matter.

Passengers who are riding with you including young children are also subject to your second hand smoke that could lead to potential harm, like contributing to asthma and other bronchial ailments.

It’s a Matter of Respecting Others


Young children are more at risk for these ailment because their lungs, like the rest of their bodies are still in the development stage.

The casual cigarette puff near a crib where an infant may be sleeping has been known to result in Sudden Death Syndrome. Children’s lungs actually take in more air because they breathe faster. They are unable to turn away from the smoke and of course infants do not know how harmful the smoke from tobacco is or even what it is.

A child who is around an adult smoker might draw closer to the lite cigarette because it is something new and their curious minds want to investigate. They do not know any better.

Adults may not want to smell your second hand smoke either. Many people are polite and will tolerate the fumes when they accompany you walking, driving or riding in a car.

Also, think about it. Many friends will endure second hand smoke before offending you. You might ask how you will feel if in time they suddenly fall victim of an unexplained bronchial infection, cancer, and other ailments that are known to be smoker related.

New Zealand’s Stop Regulations and Initiative

If we take the initiative and see what’s working for the people of New Zealand, (we are not saying they are doing everything right) we might learn something. Their smoking rates are considerably lower than those in other countries, including the US.

Why not concentrate on more aggressive efforts to teach our kids not to smoke. How about becoming a good example by not smoking nor exposing our children to friends who still smoke. These three actions would be a good start.

Paying higher premiums for healthcare services could also be a major game changer to help smokers quit.

New Zealand is on the right track to help smoking statistics drop in their country, which will in turn improve the quality of life for everyone. In fact, on September 5th,  2007, Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) in New Zealand called for the removal of tobacco from sale by 2017.

Smoking Related Fires: Unattended Smoking Materials Attribute to Natural Disasters, Civilian Deaths, and Injury Each Year

Smoking does not just cause health problems.

There are other cigarette dangers that go beyond the the obvious. They are a known fire hazard as well.

Fires caused by cigarette smoking are disastrous because an unattended cigarette can destroy an unknown number of lives directly and indirectly … and in an instant.

Statistics on Fires Related to Cigarette Smoking

Smoking accounts for more than 23,000 residential fires in a year nationwide. That’s why some insurance companies offer to reduce premiums if all the residents in the house do not smoke.

Insurance breaks for households where the occupants don’t smoke is probably one of the major reasons why smoking is no longer allowed inside or on the grounds of most work places hotels, restaurants, and pubs.

Unattended Cigarettes Cause Natural DisastersFACT: Smoking materials (i.e., cigarettes, cigars, pipes, etc.) are the leading cause of fire deaths in the United States. Roughly one of every four fire deaths in 2007 was attributed to smoking materials.

In 2007, there were an estimated 140,700 smoking-material fires in the United States. These fires caused 720 civilian deaths and 1,580 civilian injuries.

More fatal smoking-material fires start in bedrooms than in living rooms, family rooms and dens.

Older adults are at the highest risk of death or injury from smoking-material fires even though they are less likely to smoke than younger adults.

The most common items first ignited in home smoking-material fire deaths were upholstered furniture, mattresses and bedding.

Worldwide the loss of material goods and real estate is in the billions of dollars.

Who Do Fires Caused by Cigarette Smoking Hurt the Most?

Young children are the most vulnerable because their inquisitiveness and thirst for knowledge make them easy targets for experimentation with things they do not quite understand.

Toddlers crawl from pillar to post putting things in their mouths like lighters, cigarettes (new and used) and pipes. They are only imitating what they see their adult mentors do on a daily basis.

And while your impression is that the toddler will not be able to light that cigarette — smoke that pipe — or knock over that ashtray — while you are out of the room, major fire disasters can erupt. For example: You are in the kitchen cooking dinner while you think little Johnny is in his bed taking nap and…

Injury to Adults and Seniors

Adults to seniors, although on the opposite end of the spectrum of young children, fair no better because they can get careless and nod off to sleep, dropping that lit cigarette on a mattress, sofa, or carpet.  Smoke inhalation is such a powerful thing that it can keep you asleep longer and deeper than that well known brand of sleeping pill.

The Other Loss

We must also mention those who are left grieving for their lost loved one. We must also mention the family that survived the fire is left behind to grieve for the loved ones they lost. They’re still trying to understand how something so small as a cigarette could have caused so much damage.

And then there is the neighbor, tired after a 10 hour work day.  She arrives home while on the way thinking about a nice hot bath and a good night’s sleep to learn that she is suddenly homeless. The cigarette smoker next door may have caused a fire that consumed everything she owned other than the clothes on her back and the shoes on her feet.

Consider the Risk, Consider the Disaster

Cigarettes are the number one cause of house fire fatalities. And we haven’t even mentioned outdoor fires causes by careless smokers.

Fires caused by cigarettes result in around eight-hundred plus deaths each year. These fires usually occur when a smoker falls asleep without extinguishing a cigarette.

House fires from unattended cigarettes generally occurs at night, when the whole family is asleep, which can make it difficult for everyone to evacuate in time.

If you or another family member has a tobacco habit, make sure that no one ever smokes in bed.

As of March 2010, all 50 US states passed legislation and achieved their goal in getting cigarette manufacturers to produce only cigarettes that adhere to an established safety performance standard.

If you do smoke think about others. Stay alert and only smoke outside away from non smokers (and dispose of the butts properly). It is better for your family’s health and this one action will reduce the risk of a house fire.

Or better yet, don’t smoke at all and relieve everyone around you from an unnecessary potential disaster.

Research Discovers Tobacco in Cigarettes Contain Live Bacteria Strains and Human Pathogens

Scientific American just published an article by Brett Isreal with a stiff warning that users of tobacco products are also inhaling live bacteria into their lungs when they smoke tobacco.

The amount of carcinogenic substances and chemicals in cigarettes has been the bulk of the research studies, along with the effects of nicotine addition, until now.

This new research study at University of Maryland points to “hundreds of different strains of bacteria” being introduced to the body with cigarette use. The facts found in this research study begin to explain why smokers contract so many infections and chronic diseases.

The live bacteria, which they are inhaling also contains human pathogens. This is a very serious discovery and researches are trying to deal with the public health implications and additional risks from the second-hand smoke.

Almost every organ in the human body system is harmed by smoking cigarettes. The evidence points to high risks for catching colds, influenza, asthma, bacterial pneumonia, and even interstitial lung disease.

Cancer research facilities are finding the news of this study exciting because it spurs on new research opportunities on the bacterial diversity of tobacco. This is critical research to help scientist understand the dangers for everyone who is exposed, whether they are the smoker or a passerby who experiences the smoke indirectly.

pic-bacteriasThe discovery of bacteria contamination in tobacco leaves prior to harvesting caused concern over what happens when the tobacco is harvested and made into tobacco products and cigarettes. The answer that was found is that the harvested tobacco was also contaminated and was a breading ground for various bacterial strains.

The health implications of smoking that was once thought to just be related to ingesting heavy metals, carcinogenic chemicals, and dealing with the negative effects of nicotine has just added another contributor.

The concern of smoking bugs by inhaling them deep into the lungs is a pretty gruesome picture. I thought parasites were bad.

Stay tuned for new health alerts once this study circulates providing the public is made aware.

Excuse me honey, while I go outside to inhale some bugs in that tasty cigarette!

Credit: Brett Israel and Environmental Health News & Scientific American

Smoking’s Effects on Genes May Play a Role in Lung Cancer Development and Survival

Smoking plays a role in lung cancer development, and now scientists have shown that smoking also affects the way genes are expressed, leading to alterations in cell division and regulation of immune response.

Notably, some of the changes in gene expression persisted in people who had quit smoking many years earlier.

These findings by researchers at the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, appeared in the Feb. 20, 2008, issue of PLoS ONE.

“Smoking, we are well aware, is the leading cause of lung cancer worldwide,” said NCI Director John E. Niederhuber, M.D. “Yet, a mechanistic understanding of the effects of smoking on the cells of the lung remains incomplete. This study demonstrates an important piece of this complicated puzzle. Greater understanding of the genetic alterations that occur with smoking should provide greater insight into the development of cellular targets for treating, and possibly preventing, lung cancer.”

“We were able to look at actual lung tissue, tumor and non-tumor, taking into account the differences by gender, verifying the smoking status by measuring levels of cotinine, a metabolite of nicotine, in participants’ plasma, and confirming results in independent samples,” said Maria Teresa Landi, M.D., Ph.D., in NCI’s Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics, the first author of the study report.

To investigate the effects of smoking on gene activity in lung tissue, the researchers examined the gene expression profiles — patterns of gene activity — in early-stage lung tumors and non-tumor lung tissue of smokers, former smokers, and people who had never smoked cigarettes. Gene expression was measured in 58 fresh-frozen tumor and 49 fresh-frozen non-tumor samples from 74 participants of the Environment And Genetics in Lung cancer Etiology (EAGLE) study, a large lung cancer study that was conducted in the Lombardy region of Italy.

Adenocarcinoma tumor samples were evaluated in this study because adenocarcinoma is the most common type of lung cancer, and it occurs in both smokers and people with no history of smoking. The participants were 44 to 79 years of age, and 28 were current smokers, 26 were former smokers, and 20 had never smoked. The researchers also obtained detailed medical information about the participants (for example, whether individuals had previous lung diseases or chemotherapy) and biochemically confirmed participants’ smoking status.

Using microarray techniques, which allow researchers to look at the activity of thousands of genes simultaneously, they identified 135 genes that were differently expressed in tumors of smokers vs. people who had never smoked. Among these genes, 81 showed decreased expression and 54 showed increased expression in tumor tissue.

Most of the genes showing significantly increased expression, e.g., TTK, NEK2, and PRC1, are involved in cell cycle regulation and mitosis. The cell cycle is a step-wise sequence of events in which a cell grows and ultimately divides to produce two progeny, or daughter, cells. During the cell cycle, the chromosomes of the parent cell are duplicated and then, in a step called mitosis, divided equally between the daughter cells, ensuring that each daughter cell inherits a complete set of chromosomes. The cell apparatus responsible for the proper division of chromosomes is called the mitotic spindle.

Picture of Lungs“Our results indicate that smoking causes changes in genes that control mitotic spindle formation,” said Jin Jen, Ph.D., in NCI’s Center for Cancer Research, a senior author of the study report. “Irregular division of chromosomes and chromosome instability are two common abnormalities that occur in cancer cells when the chromosomes do not separate equally between the daughter cells. Therefore, changes in the mitotic process are very relevant in the development of cancer.” Several of the identified genes have been suggested in the past as potential targets for cancer treatment.

The researchers also found similar expression of many genes among current smokers and former smokers in tumor tissue. Several of these genes, such as STOM, SSX2IP, and APLP2, remained altered in participants who had quit smoking more than 20 years before the study. Therefore, smoking seems to cause long-lasting changes in gene expression, which can contribute to lung cancer development long after cessation.

Looking at non-tumor lung tissues, the team found decreased activity for 73 genes and increased activity for 25 genes in current smokers. The genes most affected by smoking play a role in immune response-related processes, possibly as a lung defense mechanism against the acute toxic effects of smoking. However, non-tumor tissues seem to be able to recover from the effects of smoking. The researchers did not identify significant changes in the immune response-related genes in former smokers.

To gain a better understanding of the impact of smoking-related changes in gene expression on lung cancer survival, the researchers compared the overall gene expression smoking profile in lung tumor and non-tumor tissues with survival. They found that the altered expression of the cell cycle-related genes NEK2 and TTK in non-tumor tissues was associated with a three-fold increased risk of lung cancer mortality in smokers.

“Our data provide clues on how cigarette smoking affects the development of lung cancer, indicating that the very same mitotic genes known to be involved in cancer development are altered by smoking and affect survival. More studies are needed to confirm that the gene expression changes are due to smoking and affect tumor development or progression,” said Landi. “If confirmed, these genes could become important targets for preventing and treating lung cancer.”

About 90 percent of lung cancer deaths among men and almost 80 percent of lung cancer deaths among women can be attributed to smoking. In 2006, approximately 20.8 percent of U.S. adults were cigarette smokers. Cigarette smoking remains the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, causing an estimated 438,000 deaths, or about one out of every five deaths each year.

For more information on research in Dr. Landi’s group, please go to http://dceg.cancer.gov/about/staff-bios/landi-maria.

For more information about the EAGLE study, please go to http://dceg.cancer.gov/eagle.

For more information about cancer, please visit the NCI website at http://www.cancer.gov/, or call NCI’s Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237).

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation’s Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.


Reference:
Landi MT, Dracheva T, Rotunno M, Figueroa, JD, Liu H, Dasgupta A, Mann FE, Fukuoka J, Hames M, Bergen AW, Murphy SE, Yang P, Pesatori AC, Consonni D, Bertazzi PA, Wacholder S, Shih JH, Caporaso NE, and Jen J. February 2008. Gene Expression Signature of Cigarette Smoking and Its Role in Lung Adenocarcinoma Development and Survival. PLoS ONE. Vol. 3, No. 2.

Crazy Cravings May Be Genetic

Individual brain chemistry and genes could be the key to understanding why some people become addicted to nicotine, University of Colorado at Boulder researchers say.

The depth of a person’s addiction to nicotine appears to depend on his or her unique internal chemistry and genetic make-up,  said lead author Jerry Stitzel, an assistant professor in CU-Boulder’s department of integrative physiology and researcher with CU-Boulder’s Institute for Behavioral Genetics.

It’s also why the chemical compound’s effects appear to diminish at night, said Stitzel, who presented his team’s findings in San Diego last week during the Neuroscience 2007, an annual scientific meeting.

Stitzel and his team set out to evaluate the effects of nicotine over the course of a day by examining mice that could make and “recognize” melatonin, a powerful hormone, and others that could not.

Scientists believe that melatonin, which is produced by darkness, tells our bodies when to sleep. The CU researchers found that the reduced effects of nicotine at night were dependent on the mice’s genetic make-up, and whether their brains and bodies were able to recognize melatonin.

Crave ImageThey also found that the daytime effects of nicotine were greatest when levels of the stress hormone corticosterone were high.

The second finding could explain why many smokers report that the first cigarette of the day is the most satisfying.

Cortisol, the human equivalent of corticosterone, is at peak levels in the early morning, Stitzel said.

“The negative health consequences of smoking have become well known, and a large majority of smokers say that they would like to quit,” Stitzel said. “As such, we need to understand the interaction between smoking, genes and internal chemistry so we can target new therapies to those who have a hard time quitting.”

While the team’s research could shed light on why people smoke, Stitzel says more research is needed to determine the role that melatonin plays in altering the effects of nicotine, and whether the correlation between higher corticosterone levels and nicotine sensitivity is a coincidence.

Researchers from Yale, Florida State, the University of Minnesota and the Baylor College of Medicine also presented findings based on research into the effects of smoking and nicotine.

Source: Colorado Daily

Quit Smoking is the Way to Good Health

Cigarette smoking kills approximately 300,000 in the United States each year, and most of these people are seniors.

Lung cancer and emphysema are the best-known miserable outcomes.

However, accelerated development of atherosclerosis is the most important problem resulting from smoking.

This results in heart attacks and strokes, heart pains, leg pains, and many other problems. Pipe and cigar smoking do not have the pulmonary consequences that cigarette smoking does, but they do predispose to cancer of the lips, and tongue. Nicotine in any form has the same bad effects on the small blood vessels and thus accelerates development of atherosclerosis.

n.jpgIt is never too late to quit.

Only two years after stopping cigarette smoking, your risk of heart attack returns to average.

It has actually decreased substantially the very next day! After ten years your risk for lung cancer is back to nearly normal.

After only two years there is a decrease in lung cancer risk by perhaps one-third.

The development of emphysema is arrested for many people when they stop smoking, although this condition does not reverse. Seniors often feel that it is too late for changes in lifestyle to have beneficial effects on their health.

Not so. Most seniors have plenty of time to get major health benefits from quitting smoking. Remember that after age 65 men live an average of 15.4 more years and women 19.2 years. Chances of stroke and heart attack begin to go down immediately after you quit. Moreover, you will notice at once that your environment has become more friendly when you are not a smoker. Many of the daily hassles that impair the quality of your life go away when you stop offending others by this habit.

Many health educators are skeptical about cutting down slowly and stress that you need to stop completely. This may not always be true for seniors. For some people, rationing is a good way to get their smoking down to a much lower level, at which point it may be easier to stop entirely.

For example, the simple decision not to smoke in public can both help your health and decrease your daily hassles. To cut down, keep in the cigarette pack only those cigarettes you are going to allow yourself that day. Smoke the cigarettes only halfway down before extinguishing them.

There are many good stop-smoking courses offered through the American Cancer Society, the American Lung Association, and local hospitals. Most people won’t need these, but they can be of help. Try by yourself first. Then, if you still need help, get it.

Nicotine chewing gum or patches can help some people quit, and your doctor can give you a prescription and advice. Don’t plan on this as a long-term solution, since the nicotine in the gum or patch is just as bad for your arteries as the nicotine in cigarettes.

The challenge to stop smoking is an example of your ability to make your own choices if you are trapped by your addictions, even the lesser ones, you can’t make your own choices. Victory over smoking behaviors improves your mental health, in part because this is a difficult victory. It can open the door to success in other areas.

Article Source: http://www.articlesbase.com/health-articles/quit-smoking-is-the-way-to-good-health-220346.html

The Secret Smoker

He would, he says, never cheat on his wife.

But each time he smokes a Camel Light, it feels like an infidelity.

He promised to quit before they married.

He stubbed out his cigarette, washed his face with scented soap and for two months he abstained.

He said his wedding vows, toasted her with champagne and honeymooned at a resort, all without a cigarette.

Back in Charlotte, as he faced work again, he felt an irresistible urge to smoke.

Cigarette SmokerHe opened his desk drawer and there it was, a pack of Camel Lights he had hidden. He reached in. With more desire than regret, he got up and returned to his old haunt, an alcove behind his office where he knew he would find the other smokers standing around a terra cotta flowerpot.

The first couple of puffs tasted bitter the way he remembers his first cigarette in junior high.

Then a familiar heady adrenaline rush kicked in, and he was hooked all over again.

The Closet Smoker

He is The Closet Smoker, and that pack of Camel Lights in his desk is his dirty little secret.

You may know someone like him: an alcoholic perhaps, or a gambler or drug abuser. The pleasure they get from their addictions makes them do things they would not ordinarily do: indulge in risky behavior and lie about it.

The Closet Smoker knows better. In so many other ways he takes care of himself and the people around him. He lifts weights, takes a multivitamin and avoids fast food. He enjoys a good bottle of wine and an occasional sushi dinner out, but he’s not extravagant. If his car needs an oil change or tire rotation, he does it himself.

He’s not yet 40, a professional in Charlotte. His boss says she’s impressed by his savvy and creativity, and by the little things he does to help around the office, such as cleaning up the kitchen.

Most evenings, he cooks dinner for his wife. He phones his mother every day, or sends an instant message. Weekends, he might take his daughter golfing or to Carowinds. On Sundays, you’ll find him in church. His best friends know his secret. Everybody at work knows. But not the people who mean the most to him, his wife, his mother and his daughter.

He’s embarrassed to admit he lies to them. He says he wouldn’t lie for any other reason. He feels guilty, ashamed that he’s capable of deceiving the three most important people in his life for a cigarette. He worries what will happen if they find out.

They’re right, and he knows it. He shouldn’t smoke. It’s bad for him. He researched smoking for a science project in eighth grade and discovered that a few drops of nicotine in liquid form can kill you.

Years of smoking, he knows, might kill him, too.

The Nature of Cigarette Addiction

The Closet Smoker is sensible about most things. Yet his compulsion to smoke overpowers his common sense. That’s the nature of addiction.

It’s part of being human. Our brains are wired to reinforce behaviors we need to survive. Eating, drinking, sex. These behaviors stimulate pleasure circuits in the brain. Nicotine over-stimulates the circuits. It floods the brain with a neurotransmitter called dopamine that makes us feel good. Cocaine and heroin act in similar ways.

One reason nicotine and these other drugs are so addictive is they work on the same brain circuitry we use for survival.

Our brains become hijacked. We have to have more.

Scientists have turned to brain imaging to learn about addiction. They discovered that the decision-making part of an addict’s brain, the region that controls judgment, is no longer as effective. That could help explain why we become hooked on things when we know we shouldn’t.

  • Nicotine
  • Cocaine
  • Alcohol
  • Steroids
  • Gambling
  • Shoplifting
  • Caffeine
  • Sugar
  • Work
  • Sex

We’re all capable of addictive behavior.

Anything to look cool

The Closet Smoker’s initiation came in middle school. His older brother smoked, and The Closet Smoker occasionally sneaked one.

He wanted to like cigarettes. He wanted to look grown-up like his brother.

But what he remembers most from those early attempts is a burning sensation on the tip of his tongue and in his chest, followed by a fit of coughing.

He bought his first pack freshman year in high school. He was 15. State law then as now said no one under 18 could buy cigarettes, and for a while he bummed off older friends. Then he learned about a convenience store on the way to school where the clerk didn’t check IDs.

He asked for Marlboros. Everybody he knew smoked Marlboro’s, the cowboy’s brand, America’s favorite cigarette. He wanted to be like everybody. He paid for that first pack with money he earned bagging groceries at the Winn-Dixie.

He tucked the little red and white box in his backpack and headed off to school, a member of a new fraternity.

He ignored the taste. It was more important to him to be like everybody than to actually enjoy smoking. And it didn’t take too many cigarettes before the taste grew on him like the taste of another adult pleasure he had learned to like, black coffee.

He says most students smoked. The fortunes of their town, like so many towns in North Carolina, were built on tobacco. It was still the state’s biggest cash crop when he was in school, and even now brings in $400 million a year.

Of course, teenagers smoked.

Many of their parents did, too. The Closet Smoker’s dad smoked three packs a day for 30 years before giving it up.

High school students could smoke between classes, at recess and at lunch with a parent’s permission. The Closet Smoker’s parents didn’t approve, but he says he got so he could get in a smoke in 45 seconds and no one ever caught him.

He remembers the night of a basketball game, hanging out in the parking lot with friends, most of them sneaking beer, then one person asked if anyone had a cigarette and another person wanted one, too, and then another. He was the only one with a pack, and he passed it around.

That night, he was The Man.

Loved Ones Worry

His first wife, he says, hated his smoking. Before they married, he was up to a pack and a half a day. Thirty cigarettes every day.

He says she complained about the smell, and the taste when they kissed, and the stale odor of his clothes, and the butts in the flowerpot on the deck.

Most of all, he says, she hated what smoking might do to him: the heart disease and bronchitis, asthma, emphysema, lung cancer and other cancers.

Everyone knows smoking kills. Half of all Americans who smoke will die because of it, about 400,000 people every year, twice as many people as die from alcohol, drugs, fires, car accidents, homicide, suicide and AIDS combined.

Kids in preschool know smoking kills. Yet more than 46 million people in our country smoke. The Closet Smoker, like many addicts, assumes it won’t happen to him.

He Tried To Quit

He really did, he says, and once he almost succeeded.

He went without a cigarette for several months after college and he felt much better. He had more stamina. He no longer had that nagging smoker’s cough.

Then he took a job at a company where most employees smoked. They stopped working every day at 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. for 15 minutes of smoking and socializing.

Within two weeks, he was in there with them.

He tried to hide his habit after his daughter was born, but when she was 4 she caught him.

He had sneaked out to the patio like a teenager. She went looking for him. She opened the door and there stood her father, a cigarette dangling between his lips.

Daddy, that’s nasty!

He felt ashamed. He snuffed out the butt between his fingers and flushed it down the toilet. But he didn’t quit. From that day on, he just made sure he never again smoked around her.

He doesn’t want his daughter to smoke.

His parents didn’t want him to.

His dad once offered him $1,000 if he would quit.

The Closet Smokers Deception

The Closet Smoker thinks he’s fooling his new wife.

He smokes his last cigarette at work around 4:30 most afternoons, then washes away the smell from his face with scented soap. He drives home, car windows open, chewing gum or sucking mints. He chews gum on weekends just so she won’t wonder why he’s always chewing gum when he gets home from work.

He doesn’t smoke in his car. He doesn’t smoke on Saturdays or Sundays. He sometimes smokes when he’s out to lunch, but mostly he confines his smoking to the alcove behind his office.

He and two co-workers knock on each other’s doors on their way out, four or five times a day, more on bad days. The Closet Smoker says he enjoys the socializing as much as the smoking. If he didn’t smoke, how could he justify taking so many breaks?

They stand in the alcove in 104-degree heat. They’re out there in freezing rain. They can’t be picky. Finding a place to smoke is not easy any more.

You certainly can’t smoke at school. In your office? Few businesses allow it. Even outdoors in many places, you’re a pariah; no one wants to breathe your secondhand smoke.

As bare and ugly as the alcove is, The Closet Smoker looks forward to being there every Monday morning.

What Happens Inside

Every Monday morning, after two days without nicotine, his first cigarette gives him a kick more powerful than any he’ll get all week.He balances the Camel Light between his lips, then cuffs his hands around his lighter. A flame shoots up. The tip of the cigarette burns. He inhales, drawing smoke deep inside. Particles of tar, the same stuff used to pave highways, carry the nicotine through his windpipe, then down his left and right bronchi and into his lungs.

He holds onto the smoke for a few seconds before exhaling.

The nicotine flows through small tubes in his lungs called bronchioles and into millions of tiny air sacs that puff up every time he inhales. From there, it enters his bloodstream.

It takes about eight seconds to reach his brain.

Before he can take another puff, he feels the effects of the first. The gratification is immediate and that’s one reason nicotine is so addictive.

He feels a lift of energy. His heart beats faster, his blood pressure rises. He is focused, more attentive. He feels ready to tackle work again.

What he doesn’t feel are the poisons circulating through his body:

Cyanide, benzene, formaldehyde, methanol and acetylene, ammonia, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide, more than 4,000 chemicals in each cigarette, the same chemicals used to kill rats, make gasoline and nail polish, and embalm dead bodies.

The nicotine is what hooked him; it’s the chemicals in cigarettes that may kill him.

They’re the reason this summer he couldn’t swim underwater from one end of his apartment pool and back again without coming up for air.

He says his wife blamed his lack of stamina on years of smoking, not knowing he is still at it.

A Partial Confession

Since they married, he says she has confronted him a few times about the smell of cigarettes.

His heart beat faster, his blood pressure rose, but not in a pleasant way. He says he confessed. Sort of. He says he told her each time that, yes, he smoked that day. He didn’t tell her he smokes every day at work.

He says she hates the smell and the taste and, most of all, she hates what cigarettes might do to him. How could he promise to be with her forever, when he shortens forever by several minutes or more with every cigarette?

He says he had every intention of quitting. He’s had every intention of quitting every time he’s tried. Most smokers want to quit, but it usually takes several tries. The Closet Smoker says he has tried 15 to 20 times.

What the Secret Smokers Tells Himself

Maybe he can’t quit. So he gives himself permission, the way addicts do: “I firmly believe that a lot of lung cancer that’s smoking related is because people sit inside and continuously breathe in the smoke. I don’t smoke inside.”

He rationalizes, the way addicts do, that his smoking doesn’t affect his family because he doesn’t smoke in front of them.

But The Closet Smoker is a smart guy and when he hears what he’s just said, he knows it doesn’t make sense. “Now that I’ve said it out loud, I guess it’s a little short-sighted of me because I don’t see it as directly affecting them. Long-sighted, my health and my early demise will affect them.”

Most of all, he says, he hates deceiving the people he loves.

Smoking Kills, Yet We Light Up

One in 20 middle school students in North Carolina smokes cigarettes, according to the American Lung Association. By high school, one in five students in the state smokes, and the percentage grows slightly among adults. They smoke despite evidence that smoking is responsible for nearly one in five deaths in the United States. Consider these statistics from the CDC:

  1. Smoking causes 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in women, and nearly 80 percent in men, and many other types of cancer.
  2. If you smoke, you’re two to four times as likely to develop coronary heart disease, the leading cause of death in the United States.
  3. Smoking doubles a person’s risk for stroke.

    Smokers in the Closet

    More than 46 million people in the United States smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

    No one knows how many are closet smokers. After news reports that ABC News anchor Peter Jennings, a former smoker, had lung cancer, New York magazine polled 100 smokers; one-third said they hid their habit from parents, bosses, children or spouses.

    Want to Quit Smoking?

    Call toll-free in North and South Carolina, 1-800-Quit-Now.

    American Lung Association’s “Quit Smoking Cessation Plan”

    Tobacco prevention in North Carolina

    Teens can get help at NCNot.com


    How We Reported the Story

    Elizabeth Leland interviewed Professor Steven Childers of Wake Forest University School of Medicine, who studies the effect of drug addiction on the brain, and Dr. Cindy Miner, a deputy director at the National Institute on Drug Abuse. Leland also researched addiction and nicotine through publications such as “Psychology Today” and on Web sites of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Stanford University, Harvard University and others. She read about the history and economics of tobacco, and got data from the N.C. Department of Agriculture and the American Cancer Society. She interviewed The Closet Smoker and his boss. He agreed to be the subject of a story on condition that she not reveal his identity.

    Source: Elizabeth Leland, Charlotte Observer