By Greg Markley
Several years ago, an emeritus university professor read a Waffle House window sign that the diner no longer allowed smoking. The retiree went elsewhere.
A while back, two doctors took a smoke break just outside their hospital. Playing by the rules, they were also less likely to be seen by colleagues.
These two cases illustrate that, although smoking and vaping are most prevalent with the less educated, that some people with advanced degrees also continue to smoke. Although only slightly more than 4% of this group smokes, those that do are best to heed the bad news about smoking and vaping and kick these habits for their own health. About 1-in-5 preventable diseases and deaths in the United States are caused by cigarette smoking.
It may surprise readers that non-Hispanic whites are not the group with the highest level of smokers. Not even close! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2017, 24% of non-Hispanic American Indians/Alaska Natives smoked. Blacks and whites were tied at 15%. People with annual household incomes under $35,000 were almost three times more likely to smoke than those with incomes of $100,000 or more.
“I highly recommend that people who are vaping take health advisories seriously,” said Mitchel Galishoff, M.D., an internist with a practice in Valley. “More than 1,200 cases of severe lung injury have been reported. The culprits include cobalt, vitamin E, other solvents and the products of chemical reactions that occur during the heating process.”
Galishoff noted that there are abundant tools for quitting smoking. Among these are a pharmaceutical-grade non-heated nicotine inhaler manufactured by Pfizer. It is been available for years by prescription. There are also nicotine patches, gum, and lozenges available “over the counter.” Galishoff added that “It is quite possible that 10, 20 and 30 years from now, we may see a new epidemic of severe chronic lung disease from vaping. It is not worth it!”
Mark Twain, the American writer and humorist, joked that: “As an example to others, and not that I care for moderation myself, it has always been my rule never to smoke when asleep, and never to refrain from smoking when awake.” To an extent, I understood why it was difficult for my Mom and Dad to stop smoking, as they got addicted when the dangers of smoking were not well-known. But for those who came of age after the 1960s, smoking’s ugly side was no secret.
In 1964, Luther Terry, M.D., Surgeon General of the U.S., released the first report of the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health. It declared that smoking is a cause of lung cancer and laryngeal cancer in men and a likely cause of lung cancer in women.
New laws required a health warning on cigarette packages and banning cigarette advertising on broadcast media.
Move forward to 2018. The American Heart Association said E-cigarettes have not been successful in helping people throw off smoking. On the contrary, research found that users tend to continue smoking and vaping; this is called “dual use.” The AHA says there are better options than e-cigarettes. “The long-term health effects of e-cigarettes are not well understood yet,” the AHA noted. “But the science clearly indicates vaping is not a safe or healthy alternative to smoking.”
On Aug. 1, Alabama debuted extensive changes to its vaping laws. Advertising is prohibited for vaping and nicotine products as alternatives to smoking; Alcoholic Beverage Control Board now regulates e-cigarettes and vape products and selling vaping and nicotine products is restricted for those under age 19. Also, vape shops must have a tobacco license.
“They look like the kind of change you would expect to see in an unfortunate worker in an industrial accident where a big barrel of toxic chemicals spills and that person is exposed to toxic fumes and there is a chemical burn in the airways,” said Dr. Brandon Larsen, surgical pathologist at the Mayo Clinic in Scottsdale, Arizona on 17 vaping injuries. Other physicians think the injuries resemble those of soldiers hit by chemical warfare (“mustard gas”).
I believe we non-smokers can diplomatically encourage, but not shame, our relatives and friends into quitting smoking and/or vaping. If we have a relative who avoids Waffle House because a city law prohibits smoking there, be supportive. If you see your own doctors smoking, be understanding. The tragedy is that an innovation such as vaping has turned out to be hazardous to users’ health, just like the cigarettes that smokers thought they were forever leaving behind.
Greg Markley has lived in Lee County for 18 of the last 23 years. An award-winning journalist, he has master’s degrees in education and history. He has taught as an adjunct in Georgia and Alabama.