Give it up tomorrow

If you walk past any ashtrays tomorrow and find that they’re filled with fresh flowers, don’t be flummoxed, be encouraged to do the same. It is World No Tobacco Day.

‘We really need to take the next step to totally ban smoking’

Across the globe on May 31, anti-smoking lobbyists advocate a 24-hour abstinence from tobacco consumption.

Giving up smoking

Givining up smoking

The day is supposed to draw attention to the still fairly common prevalence of smoking.

“In South Africa, 44400 deaths a year are related to smoking, three times more than road accidents,” said Peter Ucko, director of the National Council Against Smoking.

“That is about 120 people every day. Imagine a restaurant of 120 people dropping dead all at once. It would make headlines. But we never hear about those people who die from smoking because they’re unrelated deaths happening all the time all over the country.”

Ucko has been lobbying against smoking for years.

I can’t say I’ve never tried it,” he admits.

“When I was in the army, smoking was encouraged. During long briefings we would be given a 10-minute smoke break. If an officer came past and you weren’t smoking you would be threatened with physical exercise. I smoked a few cigarettes just to avoid the sit-ups.”

That was a long time ago, when people could buy cigarettes and smoke anywhere they liked, including in hospitals. It was also before South Africa became one of the most progressive countries in terms of anti-tobacco legislation in January 2001.

“After such an impressive start we’re lagging behind a bit in our legislation. We still permit smoking areas,” Ucko said.

Ireland was the first country in the world that went smoke-free in 2004, followed by Scotland in 2005 and England in 2006.

“We need to take the next step to totally ban smoking,” Ucko said.

But what’s the big deal? Smoking helps some people relax and I’ve heard people say a cigarette goes well with a cup of coffee.

According to the council’s website, tobacco smoke is a cocktail of more than 4500 chemicals, 43 of which are known carcinogens, or agents that cause cancer.

Some of the poisons include acetone found in paint stripper, butane found in lighter fluid, ammonia found in toilet cleaner, carbon monoxide found in car fumes, arsenic found in ant poison and hydrogen cyanide found in gas chambers.

Smoking causes cancer – particularly lung cancer, cancers of the larynx and mouth and pancreatic cancer. It causes emphysema and heart disease, and it can shorten your life by 10 years or more.

“People don’t realise that tobacco inhalation can also cause blindness and that it’s a significant factor in miscarriages among pregnant smokers. Cot death or sudden infant death syndrome is 30% higher for babies who live with parents who smoke,” said Ucko.

It’s not just smokers who are affected by the habit though.

“There’s absolutely no question that second-hand smoke inhalation kills,” he said.

“Nonsmokers get cancer from smoking too.

“The highest recorded, tobacco-related death rate among women nonsmokers has historically been waitresses inhaling second-hand smoke.”

“Second-hand smoke inhalation has a terrible effect on children. It’s highly dangerous to children whose brain, heart and lungs are developing.”

Don’t get Ucko started on the effects of smoking on the appearance: “It’s as simple as our chairman , Dr Harry Seftel puts it: Smoking makes you ugly.”

The chemicals in a cigarette affect the elasticity of the skin. The blood vessels at the top layers of the skin constrict and reduce the oxygen level in the blood there. This thickens the blood and reduces the levels of collagen in the skin. The skin gets thinner.

“There’s also the wrinkling of the lips associated with smokers. It’s not a pretty sight.

In fact, for every 10 years of smoking, the skin ages 14 years,” said Ucko.

On average 22% of adults still smoke in this country.

So why do people still do it?

“It’s a mindset.

“You have to decide wholeheartedly to give it up and never smoke another cigarette again,” said Ucko.

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