Smoking a killer that’s hard to arrest


As a registered nurse at Providence St. Mary Regional Cancer Center, I have acted as a nurse educator teaching patients and people in the community about the life-threatening effects of tobacco. The importance of smoking cessation classes is paramount as we battle multiple hospitalizations for chronic bronchitis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and lung cancer.

Smoking cessation classes

Providence St. Mary Medical Center conducts free smoking cessation classes throughout the year. The 2014 schedule has yet to be set. Call 509-522-5700 or 509-522-2424 for more information and registration.

Walla Walla General Hospital will hold a series of smoking cessation classes from 3:30-4:30 p.m. Jan. 15-16 and 21-22, at Walla Walla Community College. For more information or to register call 522-2424.

This year’s Great American Smokeout is Thursday. The purpose of the American Cancer Society sponsored event is to bring to the forefront that smoking causes lung cancer and a host of other upper respiratory illnesses. It is also an attempt to keep college campuses and workplaces smoke free.

What I do toward that end is to explain the addiction and its consequences to people and help smokers develop strategies for quitting.

If the lungs are impaired due to ongoing inflammation from smoking, they are unable to inhale sufficient amounts of oxygen to maintain activity levels and physical needs. Not only does smoking impact breathing, it also has a very toxic effect on your blood vessels and heart, which may lead to heart attack and stroke. I would also be remiss in not relating that second hand smoke can cause great harm to those around you.

I start my classes with very foundational information. We know that when we visit our physicians there is an ongoing dialogue about quitting tobacco. What the physician does not have time to tell you is why you must quit. This is the conversation that should take place.

A single cigarette is comprised of 7,000 chemicals. Thirty-nine of those chemicals cause cancer. Tobacco companies flavor cigarettes so they will taste better.

Nicotine levels also have been increased over the years because it is the addictive substance in the cigarette. It is a deliberate act to addict the smoker to cigarettes, and by getting a better “buzz” so people will smoke more.

One might think that “filtered,” “low-tar,” or “light” cigarettes were less dangerous than others. But a U.S. Surgeon General’s report cites research showing that these cigarettes are every bit as addictive and are no safer than other cigarettes. Tar in cigarettes is thick and heavy and it stays behind in the lungs after the smoker has finished the cigarette.

Cigarettes also contain such substances as polonium 210 (radioactive and very toxic), formaldehyde (embalming fluid), hydrogen cyanide (chemical weapons), arsenic, ammonia, acetone (fingernail polish remover), butane (lighter fluid), and carbon monoxide, which is found in car exhaust. And what is most startling is, it is legal to sell the American public cigarettes

Unfortunately we are losing the war with young people. We know that every day 1,000 teens become smokers. As quickly as nicotine addicts a user, the tobacco companies are betting that the kid will become addicted quickly and they will have a lifelong smoker. Research also tells us that the average smoker tries their first cigarette at age 12 and may be a regular smoker by age 14.

One commonality among the participants in the classes that I teach is that the smokers have commonly smoked at least 40 years and have a pack-a-day habit. Another factor they have in common is that they want to quit! Their health has been affected and they are scurrying to try to feel better. We know with certainty that eventually a person will become sick because of smoking.

That takes us to the strength of addiction. Nicotine has been compared to heroin addiction in terms of the difficulties in quitting.

Many of our participants have been recently had an admission to the hospital for upper-respiratory conditions such as chronic bronchitis, emphysema or lung cancer. They have spent a week in the hospital, and now that they’re more anxious to quit, we offer an opportunity to learn techniques to help them and they also have a chance to talk to others who’ve had a similar experience. So when a patient is receiving treatment for breathing ailments or cancer, and they are asking to step outside to smoke, it reveals the depth of the nicotine addiction.

Over the years, medication has been available to smokers. Nicotine gum, for example, delivers small amounts of nicotine over time, as do patches. There also is information that going cold turkey is about as successful as any prescription.

Whatever one tries, however, the smoker must be deliberate about quitting. Clearing the home of tobacco offers a step in the right direction. Talk to friends and family about your plan and ask for their support as you quit. I recently had a participant tell me that he had cleared his house of tobacco, but would go to his friend’s house daily, have a cup of coffee and then he would light up.

There are also other incentives that are important when considering smoking cessation. One would be your pocketbook. This year alone, if you are paying $7 a pack and you smoke a pack a day, you are spending about $210 a month on tobacco. That adds up to about $2,520 a year. If you stay on that path for the next five years, you will have spent $12,600 on a product that is slowly killing you.

I am a firm believer that when people have good information, they make better decisions. If you are interested in quitting smoking, call 509-522-5783. I am here to help.

Mardi Hagerman is a registered nurse at Providence St. Mary Regional Cancer Center. She offers smoking cessation classes quarterly.


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