Abu Dhabi: Despite an increase in the risk of heart attack caused by smoking, only 48 per cent of men who admitted to smoking in a recent survey said they would also consider quitting.
The survey, commissioned by Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, was conducted after data showed that a third of all patients treated for a major heart attack at the hospital over the last three years were smokers or who had smoked in the past. The majority of these patients were also men. Nearly 90 per cent of lung cancer cases seen at the hospital are also caused by smoking.
“Smoking harms almost all organs of the body and takes away several years from a patient’s life. It is one of the most common causes of preventable death worldwide. In the UAE, people are not only addicted to cigarettes, but they have access to other forms of tobacco such as sheesha and medwakh, which are equally harmful. This is a growing concern especially among the youth,” said Dr Zaid Zoumot, section head of pulmonology at the hospital’s Respiratory Institute.
Several lifestyle studies in the UAE reveal that about 24 per cent of men in the country are smokers, with the highest prevalence among those aged between 20 and 39 years old.
Lung cancer screening
In addition to cardiovascular diseases, other long-term effects of the habit include an increased risk of brain damage, respiratory diseases, including asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, eye disease, diabetes and reproductive concerns.
Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, which is designated as the official lung cancer screening centre for Abu Dhabi, is raising awareness about health issues among men as part of its annual men’s health campaign ‘MENtion It’ this month. Residents are encouraged to adopt healthier lifestyles and visit a doctor, to discuss medical concerns and for regular checkups. Patients between the ages of 55 and 75 years with a history of heavy smoking of cigarettes, sheesha or medwakh are, in particular, being advised to get screened for lung cancer.
“Even more problematic is the lack of awareness on how casual tobacco use can lead to dependency and that even at a young age smoking can rapidly affect health. This is one of the reasons why we are seeing a high number of young people with cancer and heart disease in the UAE,” Dr Zoumot said.
Exposure to damaging components
Explaining how smoking can cause serious medical conditions, Dr Zoumot said that people get addicted to the nicotine in tobacco, which contains several cancer-causing chemicals. When a person smokes tobacco, he or she is exposed to the damaging components — including tar, that affect lung tissues, carbon monoxide, that reduces oxygen supply to the organs and other oxidising chemicals that damage the heart muscles and blood vessels.
Nicotine rapidly increases the amount of harmful fats, which include LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood and reduce the amount of HDL or good cholesterol, thereby greatly increasing a smoker’s risk of heart diseases and stroke.
“Nicotine rapidly increases the amount of harmful fats, which include LDL cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood and reduce the amount of HDL or good cholesterol, thereby greatly increasing a smoker’s risk of heart diseases and stroke. Regularly smoking between one and five cigarettes a day significantly increases the risk of a heart attack,” the doctor said.
Additionally, smoking increases the amount of insulin resistance in the body, increasing the chances of Type 2 diabetes. Smokers are also more prone to respiratory infections than non-smokers.
“Men must also consider the impact of smoking on their reproductive health. Smoking constricts blood vessels and can contribute to erectile dysfunction and fertility issues,” Dr Zoumot warned.
A four-step holistic system
The hospital’s Smoking Cessation Programme has a multidisciplinary team of experts that employ a four-step holistic system to help smokers quit. Patients have a comprehensive health check, which includes their smoking history and tests to check for smoking-related diseases and lung age. If they fulfil the criteria for lung cancer screening, a low-dose CT scan of the lungs is performed. A customised plan to help them quit smoking is created based on their results and they also receive behavioural, pharmacological and psychological support. After they have successfully quit smoking, the team continues to monitor the patient’s progress with regular follow-ups to prevent a relapse.
“A person who quits smoking will immediately see a change in his or her health. Within 20 minutes after quitting, their blood pressure and heart rate falls and in a year they will have halved their risk of having a heart attack and lung cancer. Every year of not smoking increases lung capacity, brain function and physical ability and their life expectancy. It is never too late to quit smoking and control risk factors with regular medical checkups,” Dr Zoumot said.
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How to quit:
Create a Quit Plan — You’ll be more inclined to quit and stay smoke-free if you know your reason for quitting, such as your family and risk of diseases. Then pick a date and work towards cutting down the number of cigarettes.
Lean on loved ones — Take the support of family and friends to keep you on track as you work towards quitting. Divert your attention by calling or meeting or organising an activity with them when the urge strikes.
Seek medical advice — Consult a physician who will be able to assess your health and suggest tests, diet and lifestyle changes and medicines that can help you to successfully quit. Join a Smoking Cessation Program for ongoing support in your journey.
Avoid triggers — Change your routine to avoid temptations that make you crave for tobacco. If you do have a craving, try having a healthy snack or herbal tea instead.
Focus on diet and fitness — Eating nutritious foods and having an exercise regimen will help keep your energy levels up, reduce stress and prevent withdrawal symptoms.