According to the 2004 Global Burden of Disease (GBD) study, lung cancer is the most common cancer in the world . This is not surprising, but to social smokers everywhere, it is disheartening. For social smokers, a cigarette every now and then seems harmless. Taken with a drink or outside of a bar, among a group of die hard smokers, an occasional cigarette includes non-smokers in the world of the nicotine addict without the associated health risks. Or, so it seems to the social smoker. In reality, so-called social smokers end up smoking for more years than they intend. I did.
At first, I bummed clove cigarettes from my friend because they smelled and tasted good. Then, in 2007, I lived in South America for several months – good wine and regular cigarettes were very cheap and readily available. Again, I told myself it was just temporary and that I would not become addicted. When I returned to the States, I began smoking cloves again – still socially. Fast forward to 2009 – the U.S. federal government banned the sale of flavored cigarettes (i.e. cloves) with the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act . It was then that I realized that I was more dependent on cloves than I thought. But, with the ban, I could not get them. I began buying one regular cigarette at a time from my neighborhood bodega. Although the sale of single cigarettes (“loosies”) is illegal, many stores do it. Eventually, I started buying packs and I knew that I had become addicted. What began as a social thing became a real health hazard. I had trouble walking up flights of stairs that had not been a problem before and I became winded on short jogs. I considered replacing regular cigarettes with e-cigarettes like these:
But, that would have transferred one addiction to another. By then, I knew that I had become a full-fledged smoker and was at risk for the same health issues that other smokers face: cancer, emphysema, organ failure, high blood pressure, stroke and cardiovascular disease, among others . I was undone by the myriad commercials showing the physical effects of smoking on real smokers and I read studies indicating that smoking not only affects how long smokers live, but also their quality of life. According to WHO, “… [n]o other consumer product is as dangerous [as tobacco], or kills as many people”. The WHO estimates that tobacco will kill one billion people in the 21st century.
Fortunately, the health effects of smoking were highlighted by our global health policy readings and lectures. In particular, the GBD study emphasized the impact that smoking has had globally and made me take a hard look at what I was doing to my body. As a result, I stopped deluding myself about social smoking and have not had a cigarette in over two months. Now, I can walk and even run up stairs without losing my breath, I exercise more regularly, and I am no longer one of the poor souls who freeze their butts off outside of their offices and schools in search of the next fix. As with any addiction, giving up cigarettes was not easy at first and I had to fight constant cravings. Although I continue to have occasional cravings, I have won this battle. I am confident that I will not smoke another cigarette and, therefore, that I will not be one of the nearly 5.5 million people who die worldwide from smoking-related diseases.
 WHO. The Global Burden of Disease: 2004 Update. p 29. http://www.who.int/healthinfo/global_burden_disease/GBD_report_2004update_full.pdf