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Take a breath of fresh air

Instead of filling your lungs with tobacco smoke, do yourself a favour and kick the habit that damages your health without giving you any benefits

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has earmarked May 31 to be celebrated as No Tobacco Day every year. However, what health professionals like me really wish is that every day of the year becomes no-tobacco day, as smoking affects not only the user but also other people who inhale second-hand smoke. As it is, there are enough hazards to health in the air we breathe and the food we buy.

In India, people continue to smoke despite the ugly images of tumours on every packet they buy. This shows that the addiction still has a vice-like grip on smokers, and that the challenges for campaigners are still formidable. However, unlike the states of Bihar and Gujarat which have Prohibition to curb liquor consumption, no state in the world has ever banned tobacco products completely.

Maybe it’s time for such tough measures, as we already live in a degraded environment, where the air we breathe is itself injurious to health in major Indian cities. Globally, WHO studied have found, an estimated 1,65,000 children die before the age of 5 of lower respiratory infections caused by second-hand smoke. Those who don’t die have to live with the increased risk of developing COPD in adulthood. Adults who smoke are twice as likely to contract tuberculosis and cancer.

Chief Clinical Nutritionist at Fortis Hospital, Vasant Kunj, Seema Singh has more to add to these generally known facts. She point out, “Research suggests that smoking just one cigarette drains the body of 25 mg of vitamin C. Cigarettes do not allow for the absorption of important nutrients such as calcium and vitamins C and D.”

What help can doctors offer in kicking the habit?  She gives two valuable tips. “Ginseng tea could be therapeutic because it may weaken the effect of dopamine, reducing the appeal of smoking and making it less enjoyable. Consumption of dairy products makes cigarettes taste bad so one can adopt the same to wean oneself off smoking.”

At the same time, she admits, “Giving up smoking can be hard. If one has been smoking for years, kicking the habit is difficult.” However, the rewards are bountiful. “With respect to food, it is often said that a smoker begins to feel his food and notice the flavours once he has kicked the habit.”

So how effective are Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS), such as e-cigarettes and vaping devices, which have become quite fashionable? Expert advice on this subject comes from Dr Avi Kumar, Consultant, Pulmonology, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute. “Long-time smokers who can’t kick the addiction sometimes switch to e-cigarettes, in hopes of avoiding the cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke,” he says. But “Countless studies have shown that these only reduce a small fraction of the risks of smoking.”

He cites a study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology which states that vaping and some flavourings, even in the absence of nicotine, trigger blood vessel dysfunction that can increase the risk of heart disease. On top of that, instead of switching completely, some people become double users of e-cigarettes as well as cigarettes. “Despite the fact that vapers are three times more likely to quit than smokers who use nicotine replacement products, there’s not enough evidence to confirm that e-cigs are truly safe,” he says.

Seema Singh in fact tells us tobacco consumption in India has increased on a massive scale and cessation rates are negligible. “Consumption of e-cigarettes is on an all-time rise and has sparked a major debate. While some believe that e-cigarettes have been instrumental in improving their health, many industry associations are against its legalisation.”

Alarmingly, the number of female smokers in India has risen, leading to the increase in female specific cancers such as uterine cancer, cervical cancer and breast cancer. Smoking also leads to problems in reproduction, maternal mortality and neo-natal mortality.

So what is a smoker to do? The first step is to take the help of doctors to kick the habit. Seek the support of family members and friends. Tell yourself you not only want to live a long and healthy life but also revive your taste buds to enjoy the wonderful food being cooked in your kitchen and restaurants around the city.  Alternative medicine practitioners also advocate the use of acupuncture and hypnotherapy as some of the ways to stop smoking!

Dr Reshma  is an advocate of wellness, prevention and holistic health. Instagram handle: dr.reshmakhattarbhagat