In my life it has often been the case that I would hear warnings about the dangers of substance abuse but would never realize the whole drama of the situation before I witnessed it myself. All the warnings I got from my parents or teachers or heard in TV programs on the negative effects of smoking made only mild impression on me. Surely I knew that smoking was unhealthy and led to addiction but I did not fully realize the dangers behind it until I encountered the issue on a daily basis. When my best college friend Jane started smoking, my eyes opened on the complex nature of the problem and on the multiple negative effects of smoking both on the smoker and on the surrounding society.
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Actually, Jane was the last person I would have ever imagined smoking. Neat and tidy, she was always an excellent student and never wasted any time hanging around in the park or at discos with carefree youth. She would spend most of her time studying or learning to play the guitar — a skill she wanted to master in order to win the heart of a local lady-killer. In fact, the latter was partially to blame for Jane’s eventual weakness for the cigarette since it was due to his indifference that she started smoking, at least as she tried to convince me.
Apparently, the object of Jane’s admiration was so cold-blooded despite all her effort that the poor girl reached a desperate state when she tried her first cigarette. I did not know about my friend’s smoking experience at first and found out about it only when an occasional puff turned into a real addiction. Now and again Jane would disappear at recess without specifying where she was going; she looked more energetic when she came back, so I was starting to suspect something. Finally, I demanded an explanation from her and was totally disconcerted by what I heard: my friend was a smoker.
Since the day of Jane’s confession about her smoking habit my life turned into a series of weird days filled with smoke and worries. As I was initiated into my friend’s secret, I was automatically obliged to stand by her during her smoking sessions as a way of expressing my friendly support and compassion. And boy that was hard! At first I would cough and my eyes would be filled with tears because of the disgusting smell of the cigarettes Jane was smoking.
Although she would try not to puff the smoke in my direction, the nasty smell reached me and penetrated every fiber of my body. My clothes and hair were filled with smoke, and it even seemed to me that people thought it was me who smoked, not Jane. By and by I got used to my passive smoking routine and became so accustomed to our hourly smoking breaks that Jane’s decision to quit after two years of smoking came as a big surprise to me.
It was during the two years of Jane’s smoking that I fully realized the addictive powers of tobacco. Repeatedly standing by Jane several times a day while she was smoking, I inhaled the intoxicating smoke and gradually found myself at a state when I not disgusted by it any longer. Having heard Jane reiterating that cigarette helps her to relieve stress and gain agility, I even started to consider smoking as a good relaxing tactic for myself.
Happily enough, my body and mind protested at once against this ill-advised decision: as soon as I imagined the poisonous fumes enter my lungs and blood, any inclination towards smoking was over. When I recollect all the negative sensations I experienced during the time of my passive smoking, I realize that I would never forgive myself for giving in to the unhealthy practice of smoking. Already after a five-minute smoke inhalation I would feel my whole body polluted and my thinking abilities dimmed. In comparison, Jane reported increased activity levels and improved outlook after smoking a cigarette.
However, her general physical condition worsened, and she caught a cold much more often than at the time when she had not been smoking yet. In addition, I noticed that Jane’s company had changed: her old neat friends were substituted by a rowdy smoking crowd of people who were too messy to stir up any liking and too restless to develop any serious friendship with Jane. The girls from our college class did not know the true reasons for such an abrupt change in Jane’s sphere and therefore gradually developed a prejudice for her smoking habit and called her ‘gone to seed’. In spite of Jane’s optimistic attitude, I could not share her positive feelings since I was worried both about our health and about Jane’s reputation at college.
The first and foremost problem that prevented Jane — as well as many other smokers all around the world — from adequately considering all the risks she was taking as a smoker was her overly positive view of her smoking habit. In order to spare herself the trouble of considering all the negative consequences of smoking, Jane assumed a pseudo-positive attitude and replied to all my exhortations about the harmfulness of the habit by saying she had never felt so good before she started to smoke. Such attitude of certain escapism from the imminent health dangers is defined as “optimistic bias”, an “underestimation of the likelihood of experiencing a negative event”, and is quite often observed in smokers (Waltenbaugh 21).
It is remarkable that Jane demonstrated optimistic bias not only in her attitude to the possible health problems as compared to those of chain smokers but also in her firm belief that she could quit whenever she wanted. The latter attitude is also typical of optimistically biased smokers and constitutes a serious stumbling block on the way to overcoming tobacco addition.
However negative I was about Jane’s smoking routine, I could find a scientific explanation to the fact that she felt especial enthusiasm after a smoke break. Hundreds of millions of tobacco addicts yearn for the special “kick” they feel when they smoke a cigarette: nicotine stimulates the adrenal glands and extra adrenaline is discharged in the smokers’ body: “The rush of adrenaline stimulates the body and causes a sudden release of glucose, as well as an increase in blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate” (“Smoking Is Harmful to Human Health”). Seeking the desired burst of energy, tobacco smokers resort to cigarette again and again, and what was once an innocuous pastime turns into an enslaving addiction.
Apart from mere psychological addiction, smoking bears grave consequences for the body. Not only the lungs are polluted but “cigarette smoking harms every organ in the body” (“Tobacco Use Is Addictive and Harmful”). In addition to such major diseases as various kinds of cancer, bronchitis, emphysema, and asthma, smoking accounts for as much as twenty-one percent of the world’s coronary heart disease rates annually (“Tobacco Use Is Addictive and Harmful”).
Even thought Jane, as many other starting smokers, did not have any of the abovementioned diseases, she treated her health too thoughtlessly yet. Already in one-year smoking time, I could notice an obvious worsening of her overall fitness: she started to pant heavily when we needed to go up a flight of stairs. In addition, Jane’s immunity system did not demonstrate the best state as she caught a cold three times as often as she would normally do. Such worsening of her health state occurred just in one year of smoking and made me wonder: what would happen to the body after years and decades of tobacco addiction?
One of the most disturbing facts about the harm smoking causes to health is that not only the smoker’s body is affected but the bodies of the other people are harmed as well. It is not accidental that more and more countries are adopting bans on smoking in public places: the so-called second-hand smoking is enormously dangerous to public health:
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“A growing body of evidence indicates that secondhand smoke causes lung cancer in lifetime nonsmokers, and that the disease process is similar to that of those who smoke. In addition, cardiovascular effects of secondhand smoke, while less than those experienced by smokers, are still significant. … other health effects still need to be explored.” (Carmona 22)
Even if cancer and cardiovascular disease take some time to appear, there also are some immediate negative impacts on one’s health during passive smoking. If Jane did not confine herself to one cigarette during her smoking breaks, I would often complain of headache and dizziness as a result of inhaling secondhand smoke. Consequently, I could not concentrate during classes as efficiently as I normally would after a walk in the fresh air.
Along with physical complaints, I also had some aesthetical considerations regarding Jane’s smoking. Whenever I came to visit her at her dormitory, her room would smell of smoke — and so would my clothes and hair afterwards.
This nasty stuffy air would haunt me till I washed it out of my garments. As it turns out, my dislike of the smell was not unfounded: “According to a growing number of experts, the harmful compounds in tobacco residue that get embedded in clothing, hair, furniture and almost any other exposed surface may still be active enough to cause health problems” (Park 66). Although the negative effects of such thirdhand smoke are nowadays researched with regard to young children, I would not be surprised if youth and adults were also affected by it.
Together with health considerations, Jane’s smoking habit arose the question of her social success and recognition. When our classmates discovered that she had started smoking, they demonstrated a change in their attitude. Jane was no longer recognized as an intellectual leader, and no one came up to her to ask for an explanation of especially tricky homework. Such situation is reflected in a current survey among nonsmokers who viewed smokers “as less intelligent, creative, independent, conscientious, ambitious, and considerate, as having poorer judgment, and as more hostile than their nonsmoking counterparts” (Baker 41-42).
Although no one openly spoke against Jane’s smoking, it was quite obvious that the class did not approve of this unhealthy practice. Their negative attitude to smoking became the more apparent when Jane finally succeeded in quitting: never before did she receive so many words of encouragement and support.
The social significance of smoking issue cannot be overestimated: smokers threat not only their own health but also the health of people around them. Therefore, a complex approach should be undertaken to help our society become healthier: not only legal regulations but also public support should be gained in order to introduce smoking regulations efficiently (Mehl, Winch, & Wipfli 57-58). Once social organizations unite their forces and spread information on the hazards of smoking among large sections of the public, the general awareness of the issue will give rise to a healthy movement all over the planet.
My friend’s smoking experience has shown me that the dramatic effects of smoking extend far beyond the smoker’s own body. Millions of innocent people are harmed by secondhand and even thirdhand smoking, sometimes without even being aware of it. Considering the enormous range of action that tobacco smoke has, it is vital that all of us join forces and inform each other about the smoking hazards.
Baker, Kathleen, et al. “The social hazards of smoking in academic contexts: students’ and teachers’ attitudes about student smokers.” Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education 50.3 (2006): 41-47. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.
Carmona, Richard. “Secondhand Smoke Is a Serious Problem.” The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General (2006): 22-24. Rpt. in Tobacco and Smoking. Ed. Karen F. Balkin. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2004. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.
Mehl, Garrett, Peter Winch, and Heather Wipfli. “Controlling tobacco: the vital role of local communities.” Harvard International Review 27.1 (2005): 54-58. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.
Park, Alice. “New Smoke Alarm.” Time. 2010: 66. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.
“Smoking Is Harmful to Human Health.” Tobacco and Smoking. Ed. Karen F. Balkin. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2009. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.
“Tobacco Use Is Addictive and Harmful.” Gateway Drugs. Ed. Noël Merino. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. Opposing Viewpoints. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.
Waltenbaugh, Adam W., and Matthew J. Zagummy. “Optimistic bias and perceived control among cigarette smokers.” Journal of Alcohol & Drug Education 47.3 (2004): 20-33. Gale Opposing Viewpoints In Context. Web.