There are certainly plenty of ways to give yourself a strong foundation for the years ahead when it comes to your health. Plenty of exercise, eating well, and having ample rest are all great ways to keep healthy. However, there are also certain vices that achieve the opposite. Smoking is one of the most damaging habits one can develop, and it has strong associations with certain chronic diseases that should have you thinking twice about lighting up.
Smoking Regulations in Singapore
The Singapore government has been progressively rolling out measures to curb the rise of this bad habit. Starting from 1 January 2021, the minimum legal age to purchase tobacco products was increased to 21 years old. This marks the latest move of our smoking controls that began in the 1970s.
With an average of 6 Singaporeans succumbing to the effects of smoking-related diseases every day, there is a need to protect everyone from the harmful effects of smoking.
What Are Some Smoking-Related Diseases?
Some examples of smoking-related diseases include:
- Heart disease
- Chronic respiratory diseases (such as bronchitis and emphysema)
Smoking and Chronic Diseases
According to the Ministry of Health (MOH), a chronic disease is defined as a lifelong medical condition. These conditions can be progressive and are usually managed by lifestyle changes. However, should the conditions worsen, it can be hard to lead a relatively normal life.
Three of the most common chronic diseases in Singapore are:
- High Blood Cholesterol
Smoking and Hypertension
Hypertension is where one’s blood pressure is kept constantly high. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), if your blood pressure is at least 140 mmHg when the heart is beating, and at least 90 mmHg at rest on two different days, you suffer from hypertension.
If not managed properly, the condition can damage blood vessels throughout the entire body. This also increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, as well as heart and kidney disease. All of which can be fatal.
When you smoke, the chemicals inhaled can cause the walls of blood vessels to become sticky, which causes fatty material to accumulate and narrow the blood vessels. Thinner blood vessels can lead to hypertension developing in the long run.
Smoking also causes your blood pressure and heart rate to increase due to nicotine, making hypertension even more likely to develop.
Smoking and High Blood Cholesterol
Cholesterol is a fat-like, waxy substance that can be found in our blood. It is an essential building block for cells, hormones, and vitamin D. However, having high blood cholesterol levels is not good.
High blood cholesterol – the low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or also known as “bad” cholesterol – can cause plaque to build up along the wall of the blood vessels. This plaque can cause blood vessels to narrow and harden, otherwise known as atherosclerosis. If such build-ups were to burst, they could lead to a blood clot in the vessels, which increases the risk of a stroke or heart attack.
Smoking most certainly does not help to reduce high blood cholesterol. It causes the LDL to become more sticky, and more likely to accumulate on the walls of blood vessels. Smoking also reduces the amount of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the good cholesterol in your blood which can help clear plaque from the walls of blood vessels. Having less HDL is not advisable. Chemicals found in cigarettes can also damage blood vessels. This increases the likelihood of plaque build-up as cholesterol deposits can easily form along the damaged areas.
Smoking and Diabetes
Findings by the US Food and Drug Association (FDA) suggest that smokers are 30 to 40% more likely to develop Type-2 diabetes when compared to non-smokers. This is a condition where the body has become more resistant to insulin, resulting in elevated levels of blood sugar.
Without proper care, Type-2 diabetes can lead to other complications such as:
- Coronary heart disease
- Heart attack
- Eye disease
- Kidney disease
- Foot disease
- Nerve disease
Harmful chemicals in cigarettes can also damage body cells, and prevent them from functioning normally. This can cause inflammation throughout the body, and further reduce the effectiveness of insulin. That is not all, there is also oxidative stress caused when cigarette chemicals interact with oxygen found inside your body. This leads to further damage and increases the risk of diabetes.
Nicotine inhaled from smoking further complicates the situation by reducing the efficacy of insulin. Smokers with Type-2 diabetes will find that they require even more insulin to control blood sugar levels.
Putting an End To Smoking
The Importance of Quitting Smoking
When it comes to chronic diseases, staying smoke-free gives you a better chance of managing these diseases and regaining more control over your life.
Smoking does not just hinder chronic disease management, but the combination of smoking and poor management can lead to even greater harm to the body.
For smokers suffering from Type-2 diabetes, some harmful effects include:
- Greater damage to blood vessels. This leads to a higher likelihood of clotting, narrowed blood vessels, and less blood flow to vital organs such as the heart and brain.
- Increased chances of developing pneumonia – inflammation of air sacs in the lungs. If you have diabetes, recovery may be more difficult.
- Both diabetes and smoking damage the blood vessels in the eyes. This causes bleeding at the back of the eye and, in turn, results in retinopathy (damage to the part of the eye which senses light).
Why Is It Hard To Quit Smoking?
Based on findings by the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are often challenges facing smokers who are trying to quit:
- Addiction and dependence on nicotine
Nicotine addiction is a severe impediment to quitting. This substance can stimulate the release of the dopamine neurotransmitter, which is how we feel the sensation of pleasure. If you are constantly on a dopamine high due to smoking, you would most certainly want to maintain that high.
This can cause your body to get used to the artificially high levels of dopamine, which requires constant and increased consumption of cigarettes. Anytime you try to quit, the sudden drop in dopamine can cause conditions such as anxiety and even depression.
- Social and behavioural significance of nicotine
Smoking can inadvertently become part of your daily routine, and can even play a part in social interactions. Smoking with friends, while drinking, or even when having a meal – all of these behaviours can become intertwined with smoking, which makes it even harder to quit.
- Use of smoking as a coping mechanism
There can also be emotional significance to smoking, where smoking helps users to regulate their emotions such as anger, sadness, happiness, and more. This can be a difficult arrangement to untangle, and may require smokers to sort out their psychological well-being before being able to quit.
What Are Some of the Steps You Can Take?
It can be a tough journey trying to kick the habit, but you are most certainly not alone. There is always help in the form of healthcare professionals and support groups.
If you are trying to quit on your own, you can consider the following options:
Keep yourself accountable by signing up for the I Quit 28-Day Countdown with HPB. Daily text messages will provide tips to help you along the way, and you will also have access to professional support together with peers also trying to quit. Should you finish your pledge, there are HPB e-vouchers as incentives.
- Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT
For NRT, there are various forms, such as gum, skin patches, lozenges, or even inhalers. By providing your body with some amount of nicotine, you can slowly wean yourself off smoking entirely, without the harmful effects of other foreign substances.
Most, if not all, pharmacies in Singapore carry NRT products, and you can start your commitment to quitting smoking without a prescription.
If doing it yourself is not what you need, consider smoking cessation programmes to give you more of a hand. These special programmes are conducted at polyclinics and hospitals around Singapore:
- Alexandra Hospital
- Health Promotion Board
- Child Guidance Clinic
- Institute of Mental Health
- Singapore General Hospital
- Tan Tock Seng Hospital
- National Healthcare Group Polyclinics
Included in the programme are personal counselling sessions, regular check-ins, and access to educational materials as well as prescription medications.
Start Your Journey to Better Health Today
Chronic diseases may be troublesome, but they are not going to stop anyone who is determined to take control of their health. Steer away from bad habits such as smoking, and take the necessary steps to give yourself a better chance of managing your health.
Understand the condition, the causes, and the help available to you. After that, all you need to do is take the first step!