Broadcast: November 25, 2003
This is Science in the News, from VOA Special English. I'm Bob Doughty.
And I'm Sarah Long. This week -- some advice about how to stop smoking ... and the case of a brain-damaged woman in Florida. Her husband has been fighting to have doctors end her life.
Each year, the American Cancer Society holds the Great American Smokeout. It is a day when people in the United States are supposed to avoid the use of tobacco.
The Great American Smokeout is twenty-seven years old. It is part of the effort to get smokers to give up cigarettes and save lives. Not just their own lives, but also the lives of the people who breathe their smoke.
Tobacco is the leading cause of lung disease. Smoking is also linked to heart disease, stroke and many kinds of cancer. So-called light or low-tar cigarettes are no safer. Smokeless tobacco and cigars also have been linked to cancer.
The World Health Organization estimates that almost five-million people a year die from the effects of smoking. At current rates of growth, the W-H-O says tobacco use will kill more than eight-million people a year by two-thousand-twenty.
This year's observance of the Great American Smokeout took place last Thursday. So this seems like a good time to repeat some advice we have given before about how to stop smoking.
Studies have found that nicotine can be as powerful as alcohol or cocaine. Nicotine is a poison. But it is also the major substance in cigarettes that gives pleasure to smokers. The body grows to depend on nicotine. When a former smoker smokes a cigarette, the nicotine reaction may start again, forcing the person to keep smoking.
So experts say it is better not to start smoking and become dependent on nicotine than it is to smoke with the idea of stopping later.
It is not easy to stop smoking permanently. However, doctors say you probably will live longer if you do stop smoking. You will feel better and look better. You also will protect the health of family members and others who breathe your smoke.
The American Cancer Society says the sooner smokers stop smoking, the more they can reduce their chances of cancer and other diseases. It says blood pressure returns to normal twenty minutes after smoking the last cigarette. Carbon monoxide gas levels in the blood return to normal after eight hours. After one day, the chance of heart attack decreases. After one year, the risk of heart disease for a non-smoker is half that of a smoker.
There are several products designed to help end a smoker's dependence on cigarettes. There are several kinds of nicotine replacement products that provide small amounts of the substance. These can help people stop smoking.
For example, smokers can place a small, specially treated piece of material, a patch, on their skin. They can chew or swallow other products that contain nicotine. Or they can breathe small amounts of nicotine through their nose or mouth.
Studies have shown that a drug used to fight depression reduces the urge to smoke for some people. The anti-depressant drug is called Zyban. It does not contain nicotine. The drug increases levels of the chemical dopamine in the brain. Dopamine produces feelings of pleasure.
There is strong evidence that people who have suffered from depression are much more likely than other people to smoke. The same is true for people who have brain disorders such as schizophrenia. Doctors say these people can think better and feel better when they are smoking. It also is much harder for them to stop smoking than it is for other people.
The American Cancer Society says there is no one right way to stop smoking. It says one method or a combination of methods may be successful. They include attending self-help programs or following directions in a book. The group says any way to stop smoking that is legal, moral and effective is worth trying.
To stop smoking, you should carefully plan your actions for at least one week. Try to stay away from people and situations that might trouble you. Do not go to public places where people smoke. Being under the influence of alcohol can also make it harder to resist smoking. So if you drink alcohol, you may need to stop temporarily.
Many experts say it is best to stop smoking completely. Even one cigarette can make you a smoker again. In the first week or two without cigarettes, you probably will feel terrible. You may be angry all the time. Or you may feel sad. You may have a headache. Or your stomach may feel sick. Do not lose hope.
If you stay away from tobacco, those feelings will go away in a few weeks. Tell yourself that you will be happier as a non-smoker. Tell yourself that nicotine should not control your life.
Move around as much as possible. Go on a fast walk or a run at least two times a day. Walking or running will make you breathe deeply. This will help clear the nicotine from your body. Also, when you have the urge to smoke, you could chew gum or eat a piece of fruit or vegetable instead.
For a long time, you will continue to have periods when you really want a cigarette. Yet these times will come less often. One day, you will recognize that you have won the struggle against smoking.
In the United States, a court case in Florida over the life of a brain-damaged woman has created much debate. Terri Schiavo is thirty-nine years old. Thirteen years ago, she suffered a heart attack. Doctors found that her brain was starved of oxygen for about ten minutes.
The brain damage that resulted left her unable to care for herself. She has been kept alive by a feeding tube in her mouth. She can breathe without assistance. But she cannot eat or swallow. Nor can she talk, or make decisions for herself. Florida courts have found that she is in what doctors call a persistent vegetative state.
Her husband, Michael, wants doctors to remove her feeding tube and permit her to die. He says his wife told him she would rather die than be kept alive by life support. But family members dispute that. They believe she still could recover with treatment. Some medical experts, however, have said Terri Schiavo will never recover.
Michael Schiavo is the legal caretaker for his wife. Under the law, a caretaker is believed to know best what a person would have wanted.
For years, the parents of Terri Schiavo have been seeking the right to decide her care. Her parents have fought to keep her alive. So have Christian groups and other supporters.
Doctors removed her feeding tube on October fifteenth. But they replaced it six days later, after the Florida Legislature passed a law. That law gave Governor Jeb Bush the power to overrule the courts. Governor Bush, the brother of the president, ordered doctors to continue feeding Terri Schiavo.
After that, Michael Schiavo asked the courts to rule the new law unconstitutional. He said it violated his wife's right to privacy. He said it also violated the separation of powers in the state government under the Florida Constitution. Last week, an appeals court agreed to let Michael Schiavo continue his case against Governor Bush.
A vegetative state is not like the deep sleep of a coma. A person may have open eyes, periods of waking and sleeping and some bodily movement. But experts say the brain cannot produce emotion, memory or thought.
Those seeking to keep Terri Schiavo alive, however, say she is in what is called a minimally conscious condition. They say a videotape made by her parents shows that she can still think and react. On the tape, her eyes blink, though faster than normal. Her mouth hangs open, but at times the edges seem to turn up, as if in a smile. Her father says there were signs that she could hear and answer questions.
However, a number of experts on the nervous system rejected these ideas. They said the appearances of brain-damaged people can be misleading.
SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by George Grow and Cynthia Kirk, who was also our producer. This is Sarah Long.
And this is Bob Doughty. Join us again next week for more news about science, in Special English, on the Voice of America.