Wednesday, June 20, 2012
THE DANGERS AND HEALTH RISKS OF SMOKING
This is a rerun of a blog I wrote several years ago, which I try to publish every Father's Day. (Sorry I'm late this year!)
I’m sure you have seen them—the employees huddled outside the store on their break with cigarettes in hand; the young mother smoking outside her car while her child waits in his car seat; the middle-aged man taking one last puff and throwing his ciggie butt to the ground before entering the restaurant; the pretty young lady in the car ahead of you, flicking her ashes out the window. They’re all over, people who smoke. Every time I see somebody doing this, I think of my father, who spent his last days hooked up to an oxygen tank due to chronic emphysema after years of smoking. I always wish I could tell these people what he went through, and how they are endangering their health. Maybe they already know that smoking is bad, and they just don’t care. But I do think far too many people, especially the younger ones, may think they are “invincible” and aren’t even considering what repercussions their habit could bring.
Like many from his generation, my father began smoking in his teens, probably as a way to be cool or to fit in. Most people then were not aware of the dangers of this practice, and it was more socially acceptable. Ricky and Lucy smoked, Rob and Laura Petrie smoked, The Beatles smoked. Even my mother lit up a cigarette occasionally to be social. I myself experimented with tobacco in my teens, to be bad and rebel. Luckily I was smart enough to realize I did not want to become hooked, so I soon quit. So did my mother, when I was a kid.
But my father kept smoking, year after year. The above photo shows him in his early 30’s in 1956, just before I was born. You can clearly see the cigarette in his hand, along with the smile on his face. This man would soon become the proud father of a daughter (me) and a son, born a few years later. He enjoyed a long career as a plumber and pipe-fitter, even owning his own business for a number of years. He actively pursued hobbies such as golf, bowling, and fishing. He especially looked forward to his annual fishing trip with a buddy. There was nothing he liked more than being out on the lake, with fishing pole in hand. All this time, he smoked. As he got older, I remember him switching to pipes. I’m not sure if he thought this was safer or not, but he was still inhaling the smoke. But he continued to work and stay active.
However, probably starting in his 60’s, his health began to deteriorate, especially going downhill in his 70’s. He was diagnosed with emphysema, and had a hard time catching his breath. He blew his nose almost constantly. He did stop all smoking, including the pipes, but by this time it was too late—the damage had been done. I knew he was not doing well, but even so, I was stunned when I visited him one day and found him hooked up to a portable oxygen tank. It held enough oxygen to last for a couple of hours, and he had to lug this thing around with him everywhere he went. Needless to say, this severely limited his mobility. No more golf or bowling, and fishing was out of the question. It was all he could do to fix himself a meal. He suffered several other health problems as well, probably caused or exacerbated by smoking, and finally passed away the end of 2005 at age 80. Even though he lived to a fairly “ripe old age”, he may have lived even longer and certainly with a much better QUALITY of life during his senior years, had he not been dependent on tobacco.
Do an online search for “dangers of smoking” or any similar combination, and you’ll come up with all kinds of sites with lists of common and not-so-common maladies linked to this habit: lung cancer, mouth and throat cancer, heart disease, bladder cancer, bronchitis, emphysema, high blood pressure, stroke, osteoporosis, early menopause, the list goes on. There are a lot of really bad things smokers have to watch out for. Even second-hand smoke can be a danger, causing far more lung cancer deaths than other sources of air pollution. Not to mention smokers pay more for insurance and increase health care costs for everyone.
So, if you smoke, stop. If you are thinking of starting, don’t. I have a hard time figuring out why people still smoke at all considering what we know today. Yet they do. I don’t know what it is, if it’s a “smoking gene” or the desire to fit in and be cool, or youngsters try it to rebel and end up hooked, or what. It is probably all these things. But I just think that more people, especially youngsters, should be aware of what can happen as you age. Death is inevitable, but we can take steps to stay healthy for as long as possible. We are not all invincible as many young people believe. My father is proof of that.