Excuse me while I climb up on my soapbox, the better to deny something you’re about to say, if you’re a smoker. To wit: No, it is not hard to quit smoking. It is troublesome, temporarily unpleasant, inconvenient, even difficult.
Slowly drowning from emphysema, on the other hand, is hard. Lung cancer is horribly hard. A massive heart attack is certainly no day at the beach. Neither is a stroke.
Keep smoking, and you’ll have a very good chance of experiencing one — or more — of the above, which will make appallingly clear to you the enormous difference between the discomfort of quitting smoking and the dreadful pain and disability of that abominable habit’s consequences.
Now, I’ll leave to the pulmonologists that part of the lecture dealing with the disaster smoking is for your lungs, and to the cancer specialists the ghastly details of what it can do to your mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, pancreas and bladder. I’ll confine myself to what it’s doing to your heart. What’s it’s doing is clogging your arteries — particularly those that provide oxygen and nutrients to the heart muscle itself. The condition is called atherosclerosis — the buildup of cholesterol plaque on the artery’s inner wall, that slowly narrows the channel through which blood can flow.
When those blockages become complete, a part of the heart muscle will start to die, and you’ll experience the crushing pain of a heart attack. If you’re lucky, the damage won’t be so extensive that the heart can’t survive. But bout a half million people a year in this country aren’t that lucky.
My cardiologist said that about 50 percent of his patients are smokers. But only 29 percent of Americans smoke. That’s a very revealing statistic, and fully congruent with the fact that half of all smokers will eventually fall prey to a smoking-related disease.
And don’t shrug your shoulders fatalistically and say it’s probably too late to stop. If you don’t already have terminal lung cancer, it’s not too late. The human body is an incredibly durable and self-renewing organism. It can survive, and even recover from, a great deal of abuse — if you just stop abusing it.
I don’t entirely agree with the assertion that if you’re overweight, sedentary, drink too much, eat the wrong diet and smoke, and are only willing to give up one of your vices, then by all means make it smoking. I’m in favor of stopping all such abuse of your body. But smoking is darn sure the best place to start!