This week I will be a mother to a child. This child will be 17 years old in 2040. More than 80% of smokers start smoking by age 18, and almost all smokers start smoking by age 26. With the aim of contributing to a tobacco-free generation by 2040, an amendment to the Tobacco Law has been approved with effects from October 2023, which include new restrictions for smokers and more difficult access to tobacco.
In Portugal, as in the rest of Europe, we have reduced the number of smokers. Eurostat data for 2023 show that 16.8% of the young and adult population (>15 years) smoke daily; In 2020, this percentage reached 21%, and in 2006 it reached 24%. We still have a long way to go to reach a tobacco-free generation. Smokers feel insulted by the increasing restrictive measures and find it difficult to accept them in a society that wants to be free and have rights. Smoking has gone from being the center of a social/cultural moment to a cause of social exclusion.
On this World No Tobacco Day, it is necessary to think, “Why don’t I stop smoking?”
1. Smoking remains the most important cause of premature death in the world today
My child’s father lost his father when he was 16, to lung cancer when he was 47, and he was a smoker. It is known that about two-thirds of the causes of death among smokers are due to tobacco consumption, and that a smoker, on average, lives 14 years less than a non-smoker. It is also estimated that in 2019, 13,500 deaths occurred due to tobacco in Portugal. The boldest will say that we all must die of something, and that’s true. But it is also true that all these premature deaths are more than just numbers. He was a father, mother, great friend and brother lost long before that. 14 fewer years in life is a lot of years, and those around them miss them so much.
2. Tobacco is bad for your lungs, but not only
Tobacco is the only common risk factor for four of the major chronic diseases in Portugal: cancer, chronic obstructive respiratory disease, diabetes, and cerebral and cardiovascular diseases (stroke and myocardial infarction). Most people associate tobacco damage with lung disease, but tobacco affects almost all organs in the body. Smoking causes damage to the skin and arteries, contributing to atherosclerosis that leads to stroke and heart attacks; It causes damage to the bones, teeth, and reproductive system, impairs sexual function, and is associated with low libido, impotence, and infertility. It also increases the risk of cancer of the lung, tongue, larynx, bladder, esophagus and kidneys. It is never too late to quit smoking, as it always reduces the risk of tobacco-related diseases compared to the risks you would be exposed to if you continued smoking.
3. Why is it not easy to quit smoking?
Up to half of smokers have tried to quit smoking at least once, but to no avail. Tobacco products contain the addictive substance nicotine. Nicotine interferes with the brain’s reward system, activating the release of dopamine in the brain, which is associated with feelings of happiness. Regular consumption of tobacco and nicotine inhibits this reward system, making it difficult to stop smoking. Reducing nicotine consumption in a smoker is associated with irritability, anxiety, depression, increased appetite, and sleep disturbances.
4. Seek help to quit smoking
Quitting smoking is important for you and your loved ones. There are lots of reasons to do this, including financial reasons. Share with your family and close friends that you want to stop smoking. Set a time to stop. Seek help from your doctor to better understand this process and perhaps add nicotine replacement or another class of medication that helps. Involve your family and friends in this process, they are sure to help you get through it. You’ll have more years to live healthy with your loved ones and there’s no better reward than that.
Opinion piece by Raquel Callisto, SPMI.
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