REasons to Quit Smoking

Originally published in the North Lake Tahoe Bonanza (link), December 14, 2010. We all know smoking is bad for us, but one thing that surprises me in my practice is how many intelligent patients smoke but are uninformed as to its impact on many of their health problems.

Although people understand smoking injures their lungs, most remain unaware of its other effects. When polled, only 29 percent of smokers knew smoking caused heart attacks; far fewer are familiar with its other risks. Here are twelve to consider:

1. Cardiovascular — This, not cancer, is the primary way smoking kills. Smoking decreases oxygen delivery to heart cells, increases hypertension, atherosclerosis, triglycerides and cholesterol, adding up to a 50 percent increase in heart attacks.

2. Brain— Between atherosclerosis, increased clotting and hypertension, smokers have a two-fold increase in stroke and dementias, including Alzheimer's.

3. Eyes — Macular degeneration is the primary cause of blindness in the Western world. Smokers have twice the macular degeneration rate and three times as many cataracts.

4. Headaches — Smoking increases carbon monoxide levels, causing headaches. Vascular spasm more than doubles migraine frequency.

5. Skeletal — Serial MRI's show accelerated knee cartilage loss. Osteoporosis and hip fractures are caused by decreased blood supply, bone resorption and calcium and vitamin D loss. Average fracture healing is delayed by two months and sciatica and degenerative disc disease are increased four-fold.

6. Nutrient deficiency — In addition to calcium and vitamin D, smoking decreases uptake of both antioxidant vitamins A, C and E, and energy-important B vitamins.

7. Erectile dysfunction — Smokers lose circulation everywhere. A Wake Forest study found a 26-fold increase in impotence.

8. Clotting — Increased red cells and fibrinogen make blood “sticky.” This can trigger fatal blood clots in the lungs, and is the primary cause of limb gangrene and amputation.

9. Gastrointestinal — Smoking weakens the muscle at the esophagus's base, increasing acid reflux and ulcers.

10. Cancer —One-fifth of heavy smokers develop lung cancer. Smoking also significantly increases rates of leukemia, breast, colon, renal, liver, pancreatic, stomach, bladder, cervical, and uterine cancer.

11. Cost — Beyond the immeasurable cost to your health, cigarettes average $7 per pack, or $2,555 a year for a one pack a day habit. Total costs, including additional insurance premiums, health care, lost work and lower salaries are calculated at over $40 per pack.

12. Kids — Children whose parents smoke (even outside) have markedly higher rates of asthma, pneumonia, SIDS, ear infections, behavioral problems, meningitis and obesity.

I could, unfortunately, go on. I try to find the good and bad in things, but after seventeen years of practice, I cannot find a single long-term smoking benefit. If you don't smoke, please don't start. Despite warnings, over 1 million people adopt this habit each year.

If you smoke, or care about someone who does, quit. Your doctor can help with new medications including Zyban and Chantex. Others find assistance from nicotine replacement therapy, acupuncture and hypnosis. Good news — within 20 minutes of quitting many injuries to your body begin healing. Quitting's hard, but nothing worthwhile is easy. Hopefully this list will give you another twelve reasons to take this step.

— Dr. Rebecca Gelber is an Incline Village resident and graduate of The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. She is an adjunct professor with the UNR School of Medicine and practices locally at Tahoe Aesthetic and Integrative Medicine, 775-298-1750,