If I could make one recommendation that could change the healthcare landscape of America today, it would be for everyone who smokes cigarettes to stop. The effect, over just a few years, would be staggering in its scope.
The list of illnesses attributable to smoking is long. Every day, I see someone struggling to breathe, their lungs damaged by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD/emphysema). Some people with asthma add smoking on top of their already perilous disease. If you’ve never been short of breath (and I have), you can’t imagine how terrifying it is to be unable to move air in or out of your body.
I constantly see smokers with debilitating strokes that leave them weak, bedridden or dead. They have heart attacks, congestive heart failure and cardiac arrhythmias. Smokers lose limbs from poor blood supply, and smoking acts in concert with diabetes to worsen their other cardiovascular issues. They die too soon despite the heroic efforts of modern cardiologists, surgeons and the amazing technologies they employ.
And even as we make great strides in reducing cancer mortality, many varieties of malignancy are frequently induced (or their likelihood increased) by smoking. Far too many years are stolen from far too many lives by cigarettes.
The lesson here is that we should regularly remind our loved ones (and ourselves) not to start smoking — and, if already smoking, to try and quit. But we have to do this in love. Nicotine produces a powerful addiction. When I tell patients not to smoke, I always say, “I know, it’s very hard to do. But at least start by cutting back!” There are many options available from primary-care physicians and public health groups that can aid smokers in kicking the habit.
This is no place for moral grandstanding, especially with young people. “I don’t know why you just don’t stop” isn’t a great argument (and it’s often employed by people who daily abuse caffeine and eat too much, so there’s a bit of glass-house problem there).
Worldwide, smoking kills about 6 million people every year. In the U.S., it’s about 480,000. That’s a lot of lives ended, a lot of families wounded and grieving, a lot of kingdom productivity lost to the world.
Let’s love smokers for Christ, and let’s gently, persistently help them to stop. I hope I live long enough to see smoking become a thing of the past — and to see hospitals struggle with the problem of empty beds.
Here are a couple of websites with additional information about this important subject: