Commentary: Share the dangers of smoking with loved ones

For 17 years of my life, my family sheltered me from the issue of smoking, since no members in my family were smokers. It wasn't until I built a relationship with a smoker that I developed a deep concern for the issue since my boyfriend, along with the majority of his friends, were already addicted to cigarettes before even reaching the legal age of 18.

At the time, of course, I would have never said anything harsh or judgmental regarding smoking. I would not want to risk my new relationship early on or affect the way his friends felt about me. However, over the course of our four-year relationship, I did my research and really opened my eyes, as well as his, to the issue.

It is impossible for me to find any appeal in picking up a stick of 4,000 toxic, cancer-causing chemicals and smoke it willingly. An article by the U.S. National Library of Medicine discusses how kids in their early teenage years are motivated to experiment with smoking for multiple psychosocial reasons.

There are reasons dependent on the way others perceive you, such as being able to convey the message of rebellion — to show that you are no longer a child but rather, a mature, tough adult. The influence of peers — picking up a cigarette because it makes you look "cool" or more "mature" in front of friends. There are independent reasons as well — to lose weight, relieve stress and have better focus and concentration. I truly do not understand how these benefits could outweigh the risks associated with smoking, since the consequences are so serious.

Let's get down to the facts. Health risks of smoking include cancers of the lip, oral cavity, esophagus, lung, pancreas, bladder and kidney. Smoking increases and causes coronary heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in the United States, and stroke by two to four times. In comparison to non-smokers, men who smoke develop cancer by 23 times and women who smoke develop lung cancer by 13 times.

Also, for women, smoking affects pregnancy, as it can cause infertility, pre-term delivery, stillbirth, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome. What strikes me the most is that there are approximately 443,000 deaths, which is about 1 out of every 5 deaths, caused by cigarette smoking each year. Are these risks really worth a short-lived moment of looking cool or relieving a moment of anxiety?

Physical activity elevates your mood in the same manner as nicotine, as the neurochemicals in your brain that influence your mood, including dopamine, are positively affected, helping you to feel happy and satisfied. Get involved in hobbies such as extracurricular activities and sports that work in a positive manner to obtain the same results as smoking a cigarette.

Smoking is not only detrimental to your health but is also detrimental to the health of those around you. Secondhand smoke is just as serious of an issue as smoking itself. Exposure to and inhalation of secondhand smoke causes heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and can increase the risk of heart attack.

Over time, smoking can also become detrimental to your finances. An article in the Los Angeles Times, "Quitting smoking makes economic sense," states that cigarettes not only cost thousands per year, but the cost of breath fresheners, colognes, perfumes, and later on, higher health insurance, all add up in the end. Imagine what you could put thousands of dollars toward if you don't waste it on shortening your life as well as the lives of your loved ones.

When I realized all of the ways that smoking a cigarette can impact a life, I told my boyfriend what I shared with you now. Cigarette smoking is not worth it — rebellion, maturity, popularity, weight loss, stress management, concentration — none of these short-lived experiences in the spotlight are worth threatening and risking your life over. I could not sit back and watch the harmful effects of a cigarette take over my loved one whom I want to keep in my future. Could you?

RAQUEL REYES is a senior studying for a bachelor's degree in Public Health Policy at UC Irvine.

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