Jessamine County Coroner

To Smoke or Not to Smoke

Having worked as a respiratory therapist for more years than I care to count, I have seen the debilitating effects tobacco causes in the lives of those who choose to smoke. My role in dealing with those suffering the effects ranged from education aimed at smoking cessation, to testing and treating them with various medications, nebulizers and home oxygen. I have seen many patients’ condition deteriorate so severely, that they become dependent upon family members to assist them with even the simplest of tasks.

Interestingly, there are a small percentage of fortunate souls who can smoke most of their lives without ever seeming to suffer from it. Sadly though, this is not the norm. Overall, the vast majority of people who choose to smoke will suffer from devastating and permanent damage to the body, caused by hundreds of chemicals contained in the tobacco and smoke, which our body is not equipped to cope with.

While the human body is extremely resistant to many of the naturally occurring bacteria and viruses that we come into contact with every day; it can easily become overwhelmed by the abuses which we often expose it to. Consider our lungs for example. Without the ability to provide for the exchange of carbon dioxide and oxygen, which must occur with every breath we take, we would quickly suffocate. This exchange is accomplished through the tissue-thin membranes of the innermost tiny air sacs, or alveoli that make up the lungs. In a smoker’s lungs, many of these air sacs become permanently filled with mucus, and eventually can no longer function, which is the beginning of chronic bronchitis, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). With COPD comes a constant feeling of suffocation, shortness of breath, and expectoration, or coughing-up of large amounts of thick mucus. Eventually many of these folks must take breathing medications orally and through nebulizers; and many will need to use home oxygen 24 hours a day, and frequent hospitalizations are not at all uncommon.

When someone suffers to this extent, the heart will also become diseased and enlarged, as it tries to compensate for the lack of adequate oxygen by trying to work harder. As a result, the patient now must often be treated for heart failure, as the heart struggles to make up for the lungs inability to adequately oxygenate the body.

As the smoking continues, the disability associated with it becomes increasingly worse. In addition to the terrible physical suffering and disability, this disease causes a dramatic social and financial burden on the smoker as well as his or her family, not to mention the astronomical cost to the healthcare insurance industry and/or Medicare and Medicaid.

Smoking is addictive due to the nicotine, which, like many other habit-forming drugs, causes physiologic chemical dependency. Many smokers also have a psychological dependency on cigarettes as well, which makes stopping even more difficult. Kicking the habit is hard, but not impossible. Thousands have already succeeded. Don’t give up!

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