Tobacco use, like other drugs, is disaster in slow motion

Tuesday, May 25th, 2021 00:00 |
Tobacco farming. Photo/Courtesy

Simon Mwangi and Judith Twala          

Due to the nature of our work, we have been privileged to visit various rehabilitation centres and in the process made observations on tobacco use which are worth sharing. 

One of the most exceptional is that most voluntary and involuntary rehabilitation services seeking clients do not consider tobacco use to be a major problem.

Most will check into the facilities for other substance use disorders and downgrade tobacco use such as smoking as a non-issue or a secondary substance use disorder.

In other words, most people suffering from tobacco addiction consider it a lesser evil comparing it to other drugs such as narcotics to justify their convictions.

Unfortunately, this misrepresented view ends up promoting the idea that tobacco products are less harmful.

Various surveys have indicated cigarette smoking tops the list of tobacco use, especially in Kenya.

While taking cognisance of this, it is also important to note that smoking leads to disease and disability and harms nearly every organ of the body.

Smoking causes cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Smoking also increases risk for tuberculosis, certain eye diseases and problems of the immune system, including rheumatoid arthritis.

According to the World Health Organisation, tobacco causes eight million deaths annually.

When evidence was released this year that smokers were more likely to develop severe disease with Covid-19 compared to non-smokers, it triggered millions of smokers to want to quit the habit.

Contextually, smoking is both a physical addiction and psychological habit. The nicotine from cigarettes provides a temporary and addictive high and thus eliminating that regular fix of nicotine causes the body to experience physical withdrawal symptoms and cravings.

Because of nicotine’s ‘feel good’ effect on the brain, smokers may turn to cigarettes as a quick and reliable way to boost outlook, relieve stress and unwind. Smoking can also be a way of coping with depression, anxiety or boredom. Quitting means finding different, healthier ways to achieve same goals.

Quitting can be challenging, especially with the added social and economic stress that have come as a result of the pandemic, but there are a lot of reasons to quit.

The benefits of quitting are almost immediate. After just 20 minutes of quitting smoking, a user’s heart rate drops.

Within 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in their blood drops to normal. Within 2-12 weeks, their circulation improves and lung function increases.

Within 1-9 months, coughing and shortness of breath decrease. Within 5-15 years, their stroke risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker.

Within 10 years, their lung cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker. Within 15 years, their risk of heart disease is that of a non-smoker.

To successfully stop smoking, one needs to address both the addiction and the habits and routines that go along with it.

But it can be done. With the right support and quit plan, any smoker can kick the addiction even if they’ve tried and failed multiple times before.

Mainly, the following steps are recommended for people with tobacco use disorders — develop a quit plan; identify the smoking triggers; cope with withdrawal symptoms; manage cravings, preventing weight gain after quitting; medication and therapy.  — Mwangi is Manager, Corporate Communications while Twala is Manager, Counselling and Rehabilitation at Nacada

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