Whether you’re a smoker, or are completely appalled every time you get a whiff of a cigarette, in 2014 you’ve got to be aware of the major health risks smoking presents (unless you live under a rock). The governments, lobbyists and the media have made it their mission to inform people of how dangerous and destructive smoking cigarettes is to our health, and justifiably so.
If you smoke, you are putting yourself at risk, that is an undeniable, scientifically certifiable fact. On the other hand, the multibillion-dollar tobacco companies are still, years after doctors stopped endorsing cigarettes, willing to stop at nothing to keep the nicotine flowing through our veins. While global smoking trends have declined, people still smoke, a lot. And as said before, unless these smokers have been living under a rock, they most likely know the potential harm they are causing their bodies.
So, while we know that smoking is both bad for you, and hard to quit, there is a lot of misinformation out there, disseminated by both the “for” and “against” smoking lobbies. This misinformation often either causes people to take the health risks posed by smoking less seriously, or, on the other hand, causes people to greatly over exaggerate the damage smoking actually does, and the ways in which it causes the damage it does.
I don’t smoke, at least today, and I don’t condone it, because quitting is awful, and staying “quit” is even worse, but it’s a free country, and freedom of choice should be informed. Here are ten scientifically backed myths about smoking you may not have known about.
10. Switching to Light Cigarettes Reduces Harm
This should seem pretty obvious, but sadly many people believe that switching to a lighter cigarette will not only reduce their smoking-related risks, but also help them quit. Sadly, that isn’t the case. Light cigarettes may contain less tar, but the nicotine levels still vary, with some containing as much nicotine as other regular brands. So when you smoke a lighter cigarette, you may be getting the same nicotine, and also, as this author can attest, when you smoke a lighter cigarette you inhale deeper to compensate for the weaker strength and taste, thus inhaling as much smoke and toxic components as you would with a regular smoke. Light cigarettes are nothing more than a tobacco company putting more brands on the market, and then advertising them as a ‘safer’ alternative.
9. Nicotine Replacement is Just as Bad
Not sure where this came from, but last time I checked nicotine replacement therapies like nicotine gum, the patch, and the smoking cessation drug Champix don’t cause cancer, or cardiopulmonary diseases. Even some forms of oral tobacco, like Swedish Snus, are about 90% healthier than smoking. According to some studies, like the study conducted by neurologists in 2012, report that nicotine itself has actually been shown to have a positive effect on the brain and body, helping reduce the potential for Alzheimer’s, being a deterrent for depression and even helping blood flow to extremities in diabetics. It’s not the nicotine that kills you when you smoke, it’s the thousands of other chemicals in the method of delivery.
8. Electronic Cigarettes Are as Bad, or Worse than Tobacco
Electronic cigarettes have become extremely popular as aides to help people quit smoking, but some out there, most notably tobacco lobbyists, will have you believe that the vapor-based nicotine delivery system is as bad or even worse, than smoking a cigarette. Given the fact that electronic cigarettes essentially deliver liquid nicotine via water and a flavour compound it seems absurd that there could be any debate between the health risks associated with them and tobacco cigarettes. Those who’d like to see a full scale ban on electronic cigarettes use the claim that nicotine is harmful in and of itself, that they can cause deadly pneumonia, and that they contain as many toxic chemicals as traditional cigarettes. While the recent emergence of these electronic cigarettes mean the data on them is limited by comparison, studies such as the one conducted by the University of Southern California found that while electronic cigarettes do contain some chemicals in their vapors, they are by no means as dangerous as tobacco smoke.
7. Every Cigarette Reduces Your Life by “This Many” Minutes
We’ve all heard the story every cigarette you smoke reduces your life by seven minutes, or 11 minutes or… you just got hit by a bus. The fact is, how can this statistic even be quantified? The British Medical Journal decided that this statistic, presented as fact, could be calculated based on “the difference in life expectancy between male smokers and non-smokers and an estimate of the total number of cigarettes a regular male smoker might consume in a lifetime.” The science seems speculative at best. Not all male smokers smoke the same amount of cigarettes, let alone every day. Furthermore, some smokers are overweight, others drink too much, some are otherwise fit but have underlying health problems, etc. etc. If you repeat something often enough, it becomes a fact, and this ‘fact’ that every cigarette reduces your life by so many minutes, is a prime example of repetition equalling acknowledgment.
6. Smoking Bans are Grassroots Initiatives
It would appear as though the move to ban smoking in bars, restaurants, and nowadays most public places began as a popular movement amongst the people. In fact, the people caught on AFTER the lobbyists did their spin doctoring. With over a billion dollars to spend annually, anti-smoking lobbyists have stuck to a mandate that they decided upon in 1975. At the World Conference on Smoking, lobbyists were told by doctors that in order to eliminate smoking it would be “essential to create an atmosphere in which it was perceived that active smokers would injure those around them, especially their family and any infants or young children…” With the money lobbyists have to spend, many poorly researched studies have been conducted showing the negative effects on non-smokers that smoking poses, when, even a study in the American Council on Science and Health reported that there was no negligible difference in the overall health pre and post smoking bans.
5. Smoking Just 1 Cigarette Can Kill You
The science behind this theory is being touted as sound, but it really seems like a stretch. U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin stated in her “A Report of the Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease” that even one puff of a cigarette can lead to cancer. The theory is that because tobacco smoke contains so many chemicals that alter the body’s DNA, resulting in cancer, than one cigarette could be the only cigarette that kills you. Whether tobacco smoke alters DNA or not, most scientists agree it is prolonged exposure that promotes genetic mutation. Furthermore, if one cigarette, or even one puff, had considerable potential to kill, then nearly everyone the world over would be at risk, and the amount of people, never mind long-term smokers, with lung cancer would be much, much higher than it is.
4. Smokers Cost the System More Money
This myth is actually very easy to believe because it just seems to make so much sense. Long-term smokers are far more prone to serious, costly illnesses than the general population, and therefore must cost insurance companies and the healthcare system more money, right? Well, not so fast. In fact, smokers actually cost the system less money than the general population. Though the primary reason why long-term smokers cost the system less money is grim, it is true; smokers on average die younger, sometimes much younger, than the general population, resulting in billions of dollars saved for the system’s nursing care, Medicare and even pensions. Don’t forget, for every pack of cigarettes a smoker buys, they are also paying taxes that a non-smoker never pays. One study suggests that a smoker actually costs the system nearly a dollar less per pack bought than a non-smoker.
3. Second Hand Smoke Causes Cancer
Wasn’t this entirely proven as fact years ago? We’ve all seen the commercials of the waitresses dying from cancer who never smoked a day in their lives, but still contracted lung cancer from second hand smoke. Problem is, the science is murky; second hand smoke hasn’t actually been empirically proven to cause any disease, let alone cancer. The World Health Organization has even gone so far as to state that the risk of second hand smoke is “either non-existent or too small to be measured at any meaningful level.” That’s a damning indictment of the anti-smoking groups’ reports that claim the contrary. So how did we get here, and why do we not know about the debatable science behind the second hand smoke witch-hunt? Politics and the accompanying agendas, if one wants to remove something from society, as anti-smoking lobbyists do, then, as one scientist in the UK put it, “The strongest reason to (denounce) second hand cigarette smoke is to change societal behavior: to not live in a society where smoking is a norm.” Which ultimately isn’t a bad thing, it’s just unfortunate that we perpetuate myths to achieve this.
2. You Are Going to Get Lung Cancer
Do you want to know a secret? Even if you smoke a pack a day for 50 years, you are probably not going to get lung cancer. In fact, you probably won’t get cancer of any kind simply due to your smoking habit. It is estimated that only about 10 percent of all lifelong smokers end up acquiring lung cancer. The amount of smokers who contract other high-risk cancers for smokers, such as cancers of the mouth and throat only adds up to about another 8 percent, and are generally not concurrent with lung cancer. Even in a worst-case scenario, a lifelong smoker has roughly an 82 to 90 percent chance of NOT getting cancer because of cigarettes. So, in reality, if you smoke, even heavily for half a century, your chances of getting cancer, though higher than a non-smoker, is not the exorbitantly high risk anti-smoking campaigns purport. Don’t get too excited before you light up though.
1. Cancer is the Biggest Risk for Smokers
As we just examined, cancer isn’t that big of a risk for smokers, relatively speaking. The majority of campaigns focus intently on smokers dying from cancer to dissuade people from starting, or scaring others into quitting. The logic is flawed; not only in the science behind the campaigns, but on the focus of the campaigns themselves. While lung cancer, or any cancer, is a risk for smokers, though a smaller one than generally reported, that’s still not good news for those who light up. Smoking will most likely kill you. In fact, about 50 percent of all lifelong smokers die from a smoking-related disease and at an average of 14 years younger than non-smokers. The greatest risk to a smoker is cardiopulmonary diseases that ultimately lead to heart attacks and sudden death. Before we get to the end stage, however, there’s the lovely emphysema and angina, and coronary artery disease that decimate a smoker’s quality of life, causing pain, reduced blood flow, difficulty breathing and recurrent bronchitis. If lung cancer is the only worry you have when you reach for a cigarette, cheer up, it probably won’t kill you, but a whole host of other diseases may very well.
Again, smoking IS a personal choice, and really should be, but tobacco is a highly politicized and controversial multi-billion dollar industry, so anything you read about smoking, beware the agenda behind it, but rest assured, though there are many myths about cigarette smoking, one fact is certain: you’re likely to die quicker and more miserably than a non-smoker.