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Warning! Tobacco is hazardous to your health

Written more than 300 years before the U.S. Surgeon General warned us about the dangers of smoking, the words of King James I and Tobias Venner seem aptly prophetic. Yet, despite their denunciations of the obnoxious weed, the habits of smoking and chewing tobacco flourished. And today, despite an enormous mountain of evidence that implicates tobacco in the deaths of hundreds of thousands annually, hundreds of millions continue to inhale and chew away their health and lives on tobacco products.

In 1975 over 3.5 trillion cigarettes were smoked worldwide, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. This represented a gain of almost one trillion over the 1960-1964 yearly average. Department officials forecast that cigarette smoking will continue to rise at a three to four percent annual rate because of population growth and because tobacco is the first luxury item poor people buy.

Perhaps you use tobacco. If so, then you already know the litany of grim statistics and facts about the consequences of your habit. And, of course, it hasn't stopped you.

That's pretty much the way it has been down through the centuries. People have used tobacco in spite of every medical report, papal bull and government edict designed to curb its use. Historically, wherever it has been introduced, it has quickly achieved widespread popularity.


Tobacco Instantly Popular

The tobacco weed is the New World's gift — or perhaps a better word is curse — to the Old. Columbus and other early explorers were amazed to meet Indians who carried rolls of dried leaves that they set afire and smoked. Sailors on these expeditions tried this unusual weed and liked it. More than like it, they came to crave it, and so carried tobacco leaves and seeds home with them and included them in provisions for succeeding expeditions to other parts of the world. Within a few decades, the tobacco plant and habit had literally been spread around the world.

Tobacco proved to be immediately popular wherever it was introduced — too popular, it seems, for many secular and religious authorities of the day. They considered it a strange, noxious weed, dangerous to public morals and health.

Pope Urban VII issued a formal bull against tobacco in 1642, and Pope Innocent X issued another in 1650. But in 1725, Benedict XIII annulled all edicts against tobacco bemuse they had failed to dissuade laymen and clergy alike from using it — and because the Pope himself had a penchant for snuff.

Most of the states of Europe at one time or another have prohibited tobacco. And Sultan Murad IV decreed the death penalty for smoking tobacco in Constantinople in 1633 — but to no avail. Its use continued to spread. In the Ottoman Empire, even the fear of death could not overcome the craving for tobacco. 'For thy sake, tobacco, I would do anything but die," wrote Charles Lamb in the eighteenth century. The Sultan found that many of his subjects were willing to risk that last step — as the chronicle of his savage slaughter of smokers testifies.


More Than a Vice?

No culture that has ever taken to tobacco has ever given it up. And some researchers say there is a good reason for this: The nicotine in tobacco becomes something tobacco users crave.

Some have gone as far as to suggest that tobacco users can develop a dependence for the drug — psychic, at least, and maybe even physical. The theory of the nicotine-dependence syndrome of tobacco has been espoused by the Addiction Research Unit (ARU) of the Institute of Psychiatry (London, England) — a unit initially established to study heroin addiction. Further, the Royal College of Physicians reported in 1971: "The smoking habit certainly conforms to the definition of drug dependence given by Paton: 'Drug dependence arises when, as a result of giving a drug, forces — physiological, biochemical, social or environmental — are set up which predispose to continue drug use' . . . The remarkable spread of smoking throughout the world and the difficulty that most smokers find in abstaining suggests that the craving has a pharmacological basis" (Smoking and Health Now, p. 112).

Psychologist Stanley Schachter of Columbia University, himself a chain-smoker, in 1977 conceded after four years of research on smoking: "We smoke because we're physically addicted to nicotine, Period."

And, as many people who have tried to kick cigarettes know, there can be withdrawal symptoms: anxiety, nervousness, etc. But they are certainly mild and nonlethal compared to withdrawal from heroin or alcohol dependence.


A Definite Health Hazard

Its psychic-dependence potential aside, nicotine remains an extremely dangerous drug for human consumption.”Nicotine is one of the most toxic drugs known and is usually thought of as a poison, being used as such in insecticide sprays and ranking with cyanide in rapidity of action" (The Pleasure Seekers, p. 155). In toxic doses it can cause death by paralysis of the respiratory muscles.

Of course, the amount of nicotine in one cigarette is far below lethal levels. But it is enough to affect the central nervous and cardiac systems in ways detrimental to health. And tobacco smoke has scores of other dangerous chemicals. Tobacco smoke is a mixture of gases and minute droplets in which nearly one thousand compounds have been identified. Some of the more hazardous include tar, arsenic, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, ammonia, benzene, formaldehyde and hydrogen sulphide. How much of these chemicals does the smoker take into his system? In the case of tar, a person who smokes a pack of nonfilter cigarettes a day for ten years inhales eight quarts of tar, according to Dr. A. C. Ivy of the University of Illinois.

The Pure Food and Drug laws of the United States permit 1.43 parts per million of arsenic in our foods. Tobacco has an arsenic content 50 times the amount legally permitted in food. Much of that is inhaled into the lungs through tobacco smoke.

This potent combination of chemicals has been clearly demonstrated to be a major cause of emphysema, chronic bronchitis, lung and throat cancer, and heart disease — to name a few.”Cigarette smoking is now as important a cause of death as were the great epidemic diseases such as typhoid, cholera, and tuberculosis . . . Holocaust [is] a reasonable word to describe the annual death toll [in Britain]" (Smoking and Health Now. p. 10).

Cigarettes are the chief cause of lung cancer, which kills over 36,000 people in the United Kingdom every year, according to the Health Education Council. They are also an important cause of chronic bronchitis, a disease which kills over 30,000 people in the United Kingdom every year.

In Australia, over 40,000 people a year die from diseases associated with cigarette smoking.

The U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare calls cigarette smoking the leading cause of the 600,000 deaths a year stemming from coronary heart disease, 72,000 deaths from lung cancer and 25,000 deaths from chronic bronchitis and emphysema.