SMOKING: An Assault to YOUR Lung-Cells

How ironic....

....that smoking claims an average of 2950 lives every day, that nearly all Europeans know about the risks involved in tobacco use, and yet 100 million people still smoke (or chew tobacco). The cigarettes, cigars, pipe and chewing tobacco made from the tobacco plant seem to be uniquely addictive. This is because the nicotine in tobacco leaves causes a strong psychologically dependent on the taste and feel of tobacco.

Researchers are anticipating a future epidemic of lung, mouth, throat, and other cancers based on the smoking and chewing habits of woman and men of college age today. For this reason, it is worth examining the biological costs of tobacco use, focusing on the level of the cell, where the damage begins. You will then be better prepared to make personal decisions about smoking or chewing tobacco, to communicate to friends and family, and to vote on public issues such as cigarette taxes and smoking bans. Tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) is a hardy C3 plant that grows up to 2m tall and produces very large leaves and spikes of pretty, usually pink, flowers. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World, he found Native Americans cultivating and smoking tobacco for what they believed to be medicinal properties. Columbus and other explorers carried tobacco to Europe and eventually the rest of the world. Today, 500 years later, the plant is still widely used. As a natural defense, tobacco leaves and stems produce various compounds that discourage insects and other predators. Among them is a bitter-tasting nitrogen-containing compound, the alkaloid called nicotine.

Smokers and chewers become physically hooked on this compound, which is toxic to the body but has profound and in some ways pleasant psychoactive properties. Researchers have found that after regular smoking or chewing for a year, a person has only one chance in five of quitting successfully on a given attempt. It takes most people three or four serious efforts to stop, and some are never able to. Nicotine addiction is only part of the problem of tobacco use. Analysis of smoke from burning tobacco reveals over 4000 separate compounds, including DDT, arsenic, nitrosamines, and formaldehyde, all known carcinogens. Similar tests of chewing tobacco reveals traces of three additional carcinogens: cadmium, uranium, polonium. One of the most damaging compounds in tobacco smoke is the poisonous gas carbon monoxide - the culprit when someone dies from fumes of a running car engine in a closed garage.

What do the free radicals, nicotine, and other tobacco compounds actually do to human cells?

While one quarter of European adults smoke (or chew tobacco), the problem affects everyone. In 1993, physicians who looked at nicotine levels in US-Americans' blood were surprised to report that every person they screened had nicotine in their blood. Other measures of the pervasiveness of tobacco smoke in the environment are the statistics released in 1992 by the Environmental Protection Agency. They blamed 2500 to 3300 lung cancer deaths each year among nonsmoker5s on so-called second hand smoke (fumes exhaled from smoker's lungs or rising from their burning smokes). The EPA also attributed 150,000 t0 300,000 respiratory tract infections per year among children to adult's smoking.
In an attempt to reduce the exposure of nonsmokers, many municipalities have officially banned smoking in restaurant, office buildings, and other public places. In addition, a US-based professional society of 9000 cancer specialists has called upon the federal government of the USA to levy an excise tax on cigarettes of about US$ 3 per pack, compared to the current 16 cents. They cite plummeting tobacco consumption in countries like Canada that have imposed such stiff taxes, and note that budget-conscious young people are among the first to quit when tobacco prices skyrocket.

We hope, in the name of good health, you will apply these findings on the cell biology of smoking to decisions you make about your own life or eventual ....

J.P. - 1996

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