I know that smoking is bad for you. You know that smoking is bad for you. Everyone knows that smoking is bad not only for you, but for everyone around you.

Some well-intentioned people say, “I’m quitting smoking.” Long personal experience says that there’s no such thing as “I’m quitting smoking”; you’re either a smoker or you’re not. However few cigarettes you smoke in a day, you are still contributing to your own demise.

In this column, I’m not trying to scare you, or tell you what to do. I’m just telling you what’s very likely to happen if you don’t do.

How bad is it?

Smoking causes disease everywhere in your body. In addition to heart attack, it can cause lung cancer, diabetes, COPD, stroke and more. Further, you’re likely to die a good 10 years earlier than a nonsmoker. And guys, it’s also a known cause of erectile dysfunction.

Smoking continues as the main cause of preventable death. Annually, almost 500,000 deaths result from smoking in the U.S., about 150,000 more than COVID-19 deaths in 2020. Even worse, about 50,000 of those smoking deaths are caused by secondhand smoke. That is, your habit is killing your friends and family as well.

Here’s what you’re breathing

Carcinogens: Benzene that’s used in pesticides and gasoline, formaldehyde that’s used to preserve dead bodies, and vinyl chloride from the filter.

Toxic heavy metals: Arsenic used in rat poisons, and cadmium from batteries as well as radioactive lead and polonium.

250 poisonous gases: hydrogen cyanide used to kill people in gas chambers, carbon monoxide, ammonia and nicotine, to name a few.

What’s happening in your body

Coronary arteries are vessels that carry oxygenated blood to your heart. These become narrow and inflexible when plaque builds up in them. Plaque is made up of fat, calcium and other substances in the blood, and is significantly increased by the chemicals in cigarette smoke.

These chemicals also cause the blood to thicken and form clots that can lead to a heart attack and sudden death.

It is possible to insert a wire mesh tube, a stent, in a blocked artery, and so improve the flow of blood. This is often done after a first nonlethal heart attack. The stent is solving a short-term problem, however, and can be rendered less effective by continued smoking.

Taking blood thinners can help with clots, but at a high cost: spontaneous and prolonged bleeding, high blood pressure, ulcers and bleeding disorders.

The good news

Within 20 minutes of your last cigarette, your body starts to heal. No matter how bad the damage to your heart, it is reversible. For a helpful description of how you improve after smoking, try this link https://www.verywellmind.com/after-the-last-cigarette-how-your-body-heals-2824388.

The most effective ways to stop smoking are to have the desire to stop, and to stop buying cigarettes. A combination of helpers is best, and here are some useful ones.

The CDC urges that you enlist the help of your physician. In some cases, as you are addicted to nicotine, this may include nicotine replacement therapy for a dozen weeks.

There are 12-step programs such as Smokers Anonymous and Nicotine Anonymous. The National Cancer Institute and American Cancer Society have “Quitlines” at 877-448-7848 and 800-227-2345 as do all 50 states, 800-784-8669.

I suggest you avoid programs that promise an easy solution quickly, cost a lot, and sell you supplements. These are probably ineffective.

The very good news is after some possibly long time, you will stop even thinking of smoking. It is possible to have a long, healthy life after smoking if that’s what you wish.

Bob Keller maintains a pain management practice in Newburyport. He offers myokinesthetic therapy for pain relief, as well as psychological counseling, dream work and spiritual direction. Many patients call him Dr. Bob, but he is not a medical doctor. His field is medical massage therapy, helping the human body to heal itself. He can be reached at 978-465-5111 or bob@SeacoastMedicalMassage.com.

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