World No Tobacco Day: A Chance for Smokers to Give Their Bodies a Cigarette Break

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This is SCIENCE IN THE NEWS, in VOA Special English.  I’m Bob Doughty. And I’m Faith Lapidus.

On our program this week, the health risks of smoking -- and some advice about how to stop.

For many years, scientists have warned that tobacco is bad for your health.  Yet millions of people around the world continue to smoke.

The World Health Organization estimates that each year, smoking is responsible for the deaths of five million people.  And that number is increasing.  At current rates, W.H.O. officials say tobacco use could kill ten million people a year by two thousand twenty.

In the United States, a nation of almost three hundred million people, an estimated forty-four million adults are smokers.  Health experts say tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the country.  Researchers believe that four hundred thirty-eight thousand Americans will die this year of diseases linked to smoking.

The dangers of smoking are well known.  Heart disease and stroke are just two of the risks. Tobacco smoke is the leading cause of lung disease.  The American Cancer Society says smoking is responsible for almost nine out of ten cases of lung cancer in the United States.  Smoking is also a major cause of cancers of the mouth, esophagus, kidney, bladder and pancreas.

Scientists have identified more than sixty chemicals in tobacco smoke that cause cancer in humans and animals.

Cigarettes are not the only danger.  Smokeless tobacco and cigars also have been linked to cancer.

Smoking harms not only the smoker.  Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have babies with health problems and low birth weight.  Low birth-weight babies have an increased risk of early death.  They may also suffer from a number of health disorders.

Family members at home and people at work who breathe tobacco smoke can also get sick.  This is the danger of what is known as secondhand smoke.

Each year, secondhand smoke causes an estimated three thousand non-smoking adults in the United States to die of lung cancer.  At the same time, researchers say, it also causes lung infections in as many as three hundred thousand young children.

The American Cancer Society says there is no safe way to smoke.  It says smoking begins to cause damage immediately.  All cigarettes can damage the body.  Smoking even a small number of cigarettes is dangerous.

On May thirty-first of each year, the World Health Organization holds World No Tobacco Day.  This event seeks to increase understanding about the public health effects of tobacco.  Another purpose of World No Tobacco Day is to reduce individual dependence on tobacco.

Last year, a smoking-related treaty became part of international law.  The Framework Convention on Tobacco Control came into force on February twenty-eighth, two thousand five.  Any country that approves the treaty is required to obey its rules.  The treaty deals with things such as price and tax increases on cigarettes, marketing restrictions, secondhand smoke and illegal trade in tobacco products.

Nicotine is a substance in tobacco that gives pleasure to smokers.  Nicotine is a poison.  The American Cancer Society says nicotine can kill a person when taken in large amounts.  It does this by stopping the muscles used for breathing.

The body grows to depend on nicotine.  When a former smoker smokes a cigarette, the nicotine reaction may start again.  This forces the person to keep smoking.

Studies have found that nicotine can be as difficult to resist as alcohol or the illegal drug cocaine.  So experts say it is better never to start smoking than it is to smoke with the idea of stopping later.

Most people who smoke have heard about the harmful effects of cigarettes.  Some of them decide to smoke fewer cigarettes.  Most who try, however, find it difficult.

Experts say menthol cigarettes are no safer than other tobacco products.  Menthol cigarettes produce a cool feeling in the smoker’s throat.  So people can hold the smoke inside their lungs longer than smokers of other products.  As a result, experts say menthol cigarettes may be even more dangerous than other cigarettes.

Other smokers believe that cigarettes with low tar levels are safer.  Tar is a substance produced when tobacco leaves are burned.  It is known to cause cancer.

In two thousand one, the National Cancer Institute released a report about low tar cigarettes.  It found that people who smoke these cigarettes do not reduce their risk of getting diseases linked to smoking.  Scientists found no evidence of improvements to public health from changes in cigarette design and production in the past fifty years.

It is not easy to stop smoking permanently.  But, if you are a smoker, doctors say you will probably live longer if you do stop.  Smokers who stop feel better and look better.

You will not only help yourself.  You will also protect the health of other people around you.

The American Cancer Society says the sooner people stop, the more they can reduce their chances of getting 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.  The chance of heart attack decreases after one day.  After one year, the risk of heart disease for a non-smoker is half that of a smoker.

There are products designed to help people reduce their dependence on cigarettes.

There are several kinds of nicotine replacement products that provide small amounts of the chemical.  These can help people stop smoking.

Experts also say a drug used to treat depression has proven effective for many smokers.  The drug is called Zyban.  It does not contain nicotine.  It works by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain.  Dopamine is a chemical that produces feelings of pleasure.

There is evidence that people who have suffered from depression are much more likely than other people to smoke.  The same is true for people with schizophrenia and other mental disorders.  It also is much harder for them to stop smoking than it is for other people.

The American Cancer Society says there is no single "right way" to stop smoking.  It says one method or a combination of methods may be successful.  These 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 a try.

To stop smoking, you should carefully plan your actions for at least one week.  Stay away from public places where people are smoking.  And try to stay away from people and situations that might trouble you.

Alcohol can weaken a person's will to stop smoking.  So people who drink may find it easier to give up cigarettes if they stay away from alcohol temporarily.

Many experts say the best thing for a smoker is to stop completely.  Even one cigarette can make you a smoker again.  In the first week or two without cigarettes, you will probably feel terrible.  You may be angry all the time or you may feel sad.  You may have a headache or your stomach might 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 for a quick 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 instead.

For a long time, you can expect to continue to have periods when you really want a cigarette.  But these times will come less and less often.  One day, you will recognize that you have won the struggle against smoking.

SCIENCE IN THE NEWS was written by George Grow. Cynthia Kirk was our producer. I’m Bob Doughty.

And I’m Pat Bodnar.   Read and listen to our programs at  To send us e-mail, write to [email protected]  And join us again next week for more news about science in Special English on the Voice of America.