March 9, 2010

True Color of Smoke

Truth about smoking
by Liew Hong Kheng, 16

Smoking has a major impact on human health especially the respiratory system. Why you may ask?
Well, here’s what a stick of cigarette contains: arsenic, formaldehyde, lead, hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, and 43 other known carcinogens. Plus, urea, which is found in urine.

There are about 4,000 ingredients in cigarettes. When burned, they produce more than 200 chemicals which have been linked to lung damage. Nicotine is the main cause of addiction. After inhalation, it only takes 10 seconds for nicotine to reach the brain. In smokers, it is found in every part of the body, including breast milk. Burning tobacco generates tar that causes throat and lung cancer. It damages the cilia in the lungs, too. Carbon monoxide is also released, reducing the amount of oxygen transported to body cells.

Smoking also eats up a lot of money. A pack of cigarettes costs RM6.60, on average. That means, even if you buy just one pack a week, you’ll spend RM343 in a year. Some people smoke a pack a day, which adds up to RM2,410!

That’s a lot of CDs, computer games, and clothes you could buy instead. But that’s not all, after years of feeding an unhealthy habit, you will have to pay for all the medical expenses to deal with illnesses caused by smoking.

Tobacco’s roots
By Liew Hong Kheng, 16, Kota Baru

Right from ancient times, smoke was considered healing and was in practice when prophecies were made and shamanistic rituals were done. In the beginning, tobacco was only native to the Americas, and the first users are thought to have been the Mayans of Central America. In Aztec mythology, the goddess Cihuacoahuatl had a body consisting of tobacco. Tobacco gourds were a symbol of divinity.

The smoking of tobacco, along with other hallucinogens were used in trances to connect with the spirit world. In North America, the earliest evidence of smoking came through what we know today as the “peace pipes”. In Central and South America, the early cigarettes took the form of smoking reeds. Evidence of smoking is even depicted on 9th century pottery.

Centuries later, when European explorers took to the seas, tobacco was discovered and later brought back to the New World. Christopher Columbus was probably the first European to see tobacco leaves although he did not smoke.

In 1493, Rodrigo de Jerez became the first European smoker in history. One of Christopher Columbus’s fellow explorers, he took his first puff of the New World’s version of the cigar in Cuba. When he returned home, he made the mistake of lighting up in public and was thrown into prison for three years by the Spanish Inquisition – becoming the world’s first victim of the anti-smoking lobby! During his imprisonment, smoking actually became quite popular in Spain.

By the 17th century, through the major trade routes, it seemed every major civilisation had been introduced to tobacco, both the product and the plant.

Later, the use of tobacco for smoking became widespread. Since the 1964 Surgeon General’s report on smoking linking it to cancer, people have been condemning it. But the sale of cigarettes continues.

It was in the late 17th century too that the English term “smoking” was coined. Until then, smoking was referred to as “drinking smoke”. And the word Nicotine was derived from a Frenchman named Jean Nicot who actually introduced tobacco to France in 1560.

When smokers put you off
By Asha Muthu Arumugam, 9, Kuala Lumpur

ONE day, my family and I went to a restaurant for dinner. Two men came in and sat behind us.

Only one man was smoking and unfortunately he was sitting next to me. I am an asthmatic.

A few minutes of inhaling his smoke, I started coughing. I felt so annoyed and irritated with the man behind me.

It is unfair of people to smoke in non-smoking restaurants because it affects other people.

In another incident at a different restaurant, we were served by a waiter who smoked. We saw him hiding his cigarette whenever he was delivering food to the tables.

When he came to wait on our table, he smelled of tobacco so strongly that I began coughing badly.

I had to use a tissue to cover my mouth and nose through dinner. It was very frustrating. My dad felt bad and we had to ask another waiter to deliver our food instead.

Ready to quit?

Other than tobacco, these are some of the things inside a cigarette:

- Ammonia: Household cleaner

- Angelica root extract: Known to cause cancer in animals

- Arsenic: Used in rat poisons

- Benzene: For making dyes, synthetic rubber

- Butane gas: Used in lighter fluid

- Carbon monoxide: Poisonous gas

- Cadmium: Used in batteries

- Cyanide: Deadly poison

- DDT: A banned insecticide

- Ethyl Furoate: Causes liver damage in animals

- Lead: Poisonous in high doses

- Formaldehyde: Used to preserve dead specimens

- Methoprene: Insecticide

- Megastigmatrienone: Chemical naturally found in grapefruit juice

- Maltitol: Sweetener for diabetics

- Napthalene: Ingredient in mothballs

- Methyl isocyanate: Its accidental release killed 2000 people in Bhopal, India, in 1984

- Polonium: Cancer-causing radioactive element