I discuss smoking habits on a daily basis with Patients as we KNOW it adversely affects one’s health and vitality. The talk about quitting is not an easy subject. I see Patients struggle, yet even with a strong emotional desire to quit, it is near impossible to quit physically. The bottom line, when our body becomes used to a substance, it begins to fall in the category of dependence or addiction. To be frank, nicotine is said to be the most addictive substance in our society and is a current hot topic with the trend of Alternative Nicotine Use.
Have you heard of electronic cigarettes, hookahs, tobacco gum and candy or even snus? Being a non-smoker, I’ve had to do my research on the new and improved, supposed safe ways to get your nicotine fix. Electronic cigarettes are battery-powered vaporized “juice” you inhale, however they contain lung irritants, heavy metals and chemicals that are known to cause cancer. Hookahs are pipes that filter nicotine through water; however it is a deeper and more dangerous method to inhale tobacco with more tar and carbon monoxide. There are numerous flavored gums, ranging from apple pie to snicker-doodle. Lastly snus, a pouch of nicotine you place on your gum line. It doesn’t require spitting like snuff; however it causes gum disease and oral cancer.
It’s implied that these new nicotine products are “safer” than traditional rolled cigarettes; however this may not be the case. Be aware that the FDA does NOT regulate electronic cigarettes and other novelties like traditional cigarettes. This means that such products are not required to prove its contents, safety, and more importantly, leaves access open to anyone and any age. This issue may change very soon, as the FDA and CDC are working to establish its safety and regulations to assure these products remain under the same scrutiny as traditional cigarettes or other FDA-regulated nicotine products.
Is there an acceptable nicotine alternative? Should we use nicotine at all? Tobacco use is the leading PREVENTABLE cause of death, disease and disability in the US. Each year almost 443,000 people die from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, but even more devastating is that 8.6 million people suffer from illness caused by smoking. This is the tip of the iceberg as 46.6 million people in the US are reported to smoke and about 88 million are exposed to secondhand smoke.
Public education and advertisement has made it clear that smoking is bad for your health. So why do people continue to smoke? People are trying new ways to obtain their nicotine to avoid traditional cigarettes, but will it work? Is it a gateway to start or continue this very unhealthy habit? It is reported that 90% of adults say they did try smoking before they turned 18. Sadly, almost 4,000 children try smoking and of those 1,000 do smoke daily.
As an OB/GYN, I’m worried about my little ones in the womb. Thankfully, pregnant mothers have done a good job at decreasing cigarette use, going from 18% of pregnancy in 1990 to 12% in 2010. The goal should be a race to zero as the effects on baby and the placenta are damaging, and often irreversible for baby’s development and health. I often hear mothers’ rationalize, “I smoked with my last baby. We’re fine.” We know that smoking cuts off the blood supply to baby, causes abnormal function of the cells and baby’s development of brain and lungs are disrupted and impaired. Bottom line, no nicotine is best. If you have to continue to use nicotine in pregnancy, we recommend you use a trusted, FDA approved nicotine product and discuss this with your doctor.
We know nicotine is the #1 killer in our country. We are all role models for each other and our children. Discuss your tobacco use, exposure or experiences with your health care provider, friends and family. It must be a group effort to initiate change in yourself and those around you. Nicotine affects each and every life in our country, smoker or not.