Every 90’s kid grew up hearing that smoking was bad for you even as we watched our older family members, for me it was my grandparents, continue to smoke. My first job was in a local restaurant that still had the smoking and non-smoking side. The waitress station was, of course, in the smoking section. Every night after work, I went home smelling like oil and cigarettes. I was still working there when my state said no more smoking inside public buildings – such as restaurants, stores, etc. No more having to clean those ash trays. No more worrying about getting lung cancer purely due to the location of my work station.
When I was in junior high school, my grandpa had his first back surgery. Part of the pre-operation procedures required him to quit smoking. My grandma decided of course to stop with him – cold turkey. I figured that the surgeon was worried about the vulnerable state in which smoking leaves the lungs which could have put him at risk for complications after the operation. Pneumonia is a common after-effect of surgery.
Enter college years. I have a presentation to do centered around the topic of exercise for an older woman with joint pain, history of smoking. I initially assumed that the history of smoking was added to the assigned scenario purely due to the need for that in the pre-activity questionnaire for the cardiac risk assessment. When I was doing research for the planned interview with the client – our professor who happened to be the dean of our department – I came across an article that talked about the effect smoking and other tobacco use has on our bones and joints such as decreasing bone density and mass. I found this interesting and continued on that line of thought for the interview in addition to the expected program to reduce the risk of a cardiac event and increase mobility/stability with increased physical activity. When I was able to bring up the smoking topic in our interview, I could not tell if the professor was genuinely surprised with the information or the fact that I had chosen to include that information or if she was that good of an actress.
Fun fact: in 1791, after generations of tobacco use in the Americas and the export of it to the rest of the world, British doctors determined that snuff (tobacco leaves ground in order to be inhaled via nasal passage) increased risk of nose cancer. 1791. We have known at least one very large danger of tobacco use since 1791, and we ignored it. World War I led to the increase of popular use of cigarettes among young men. In the 1920s, it became popular for young women to smoke them as well. In 1947, a chemist announced evidence showed that smoking can cause cancer. In 1967, the Surgeon General let it be known that not only did tobacco use cause cancer, but it also can cause cardiac concerns. Finally, in 1996, research demonstrated that tobacco actually damages a gene meant to suppress cancer (1). Basically, for over 200 years, we have been learning the dangers of tobacco use outweigh any possible benefits, and those are just the risks concerning cancer and cardiac health without looking at the effects of tobacco use on bone health, reproductive systems, the neurological systems, and the list continues.
Honestly, research is mixed on whether increased physical activity truly helps with cessation of tobacco use by keeping away cravings. However. My grandmother’s biggest complaint about quitting smoking was the weight gain. This is a complaint I have heard from numerous friends and co-workers who have all tried and/or succeeded to stop smoking at one point in their life. It is common knowledge that an increase in physical activity helps with weight management while benefiting essentially all body systems with increased neural activity, less stress on and strengthening of the cardio-respiratory systems, and strengthening of the musculoskeletal systems. While exercise is not yet proven to actively stop tobacco use, the above listed benefits can help to increase the self-efficacy of the participant.
There is more motivation than simply health benefits as a reason to help yourself function at optimal levels by ceasing to use tobacco. In this day and age, insurance companies and places of employment offer monetary incentives for lack of tobacco use. In the fire service, many states are finally offering compensation for firefighters who unfortunately suffer from cancer as a result of their exposure to carcinogens while on the job. In Ohio, part of the act that led to workers compensation helping to pay for cancer treatments for firefighters includes the condition that the effected firefighter must be tobacco free – including chewing tobacco and vapor devices – for seven years in order to receive those benefits.
As an EMT who has transported numerous patients with COPD and cancers directly linked to their tobacco use, it has always amazed me how many of my fellow EMTs – of all levels – and firefighters use tobacco. My partner and I had just finished transporting a patient who would likely be put on hospice after being discharged for COPD exacerbation, again. When we got outside, my partner said wait a minute, I need a smoke. I had started carrying around lighters even though I have never smoked because I got tired of stopping at gas stations because he forgot or lost his. Cleaning out trucks at the station, I always, without fail, find at least one bottle of spit because my men had to have their chewing tobacco on the last call, even though several of our former members have recently passed away from COPD and cancer directly tied to their tobacco use. I went to hospice to say good-bye to one of them who had held me as a baby. My dad went to say good-bye to another who had been one of the best friends their entire lives. Tobacco use does not just affect the user, although the effect has been reduced thanks to various legislation such as the one stopping public smoking.
Just because the current research has mixed verdicts, it does not mean that exercise will not be able to help you cease or decrease tobacco usage. Proper nutrition and increased exercise can help to reduce or reverse the negative side effects of tobacco use if not necessarily help you stop using altogether.
(1) History of Tobacco. Tobacco Free Life. 2016. 17 December 2017. <https://tobaccofreelife.org/tobacco/tobacco-history/>