Your lungs are your life
It’s amazing how resilient the human body is. It means that you can indulge in all sorts of behaviour when you’re young, while spending your thirties repairing the damage, right?
Well, sort of. A few years living it up in college probably won’t kill you but if you smoked while you were living it up, then the statistics are not in your favour.
We all know that smoking is bad for you. We’ve heard the health warnings, seen the harrowing ads, lived through the introduction of the smoking ban. But somehow, a lot of us have not got the message that smoking will kill you, and in a really nasty way.
Let’s face it, smoking was the epitome of cool for most of the last century. Audrey Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart were rarely seen without a cigarette and it was super cool to light up, with everyone blissfully unaware of the dangers ahead.
With all we now know about smoking and the horrible damage it can do, what is hard to believe is that some of us still consider it cool and OK to indulge.
The facts speak for themselves: lung cancer is by far the single most common cause of cancer death – approximately 1,800 Irish people died each year and almost 1 in 3 women in Ireland still smoke.
Lung cancer in Irish women on the rise
And recent research from the National Cancer Registry found that lung cancer deaths for women in Ireland are 34% higher than the EU average.
It’s a real dilemma for health providers, believes the Irish Cancer Society’s Information Development Manager Aoife McNamara.
About 90- 95% of all lung cancers are due to smoking, says Ms McNamara, and while we all know the “scary statistics”, a lot of young women think it will never happen to them.
“Your risk of developing lung cancer is directly linked to the number of cigarettes you are smoking every day or have smoked previously,” says McNamara, and while young people don’t like to think about the consequences of their decisions, “the reality cannot be ignored.”
“The majority of people presenting with lung cancer tend to older and almost exclusively are smokers or ex-smokers, although sometimes someone who has never smoked can develop lung cancer, but that is very rare.”
And while the percentage of young smokers decreased significantly between 1998 and 2010, it’s still a big problem for health chiefs.
Can you take the plunge and quit?
If the photos of the smoke blackened lungs or the emotional videos of Gerry Collins (see below) didn’t stop you lighting up, then what can you do to quit?
The first step is making the decision yourself that you are committed to giving up, and that you really do want to quit, says McNamara: “There are a huge range of supports out there, but you must really want to stop smoking, and that makes it easier to stick to it.”
She adds: “We would promote the national smokers Quitline, 1800 201 203, to everyone. There is a big benefit there in that you are linking into someone who will follow up with you and find out how you are getting on – it’s not just a one-off thing like going to the pharmacy and getting Nicorette. There is a built-in support there.”
That support is really important when quitting, she believes, because research has found that getting help to quit can more than DOUBLE your chance of success.
Do you know the symptoms?
If you are a smoker or ex-smoker, then it is crucial to be vigilant about symptoms, advises McNamara.
Unfortunately, lung cancer is one of the hardest cancers to diagnose, one of the trickiest to treat, and one that tends to have a poor prognosis.
Symptoms of lung cancer tend to be very non-specific and there may not be any noticeable symptoms in the early stages, so ignoring symptoms is not an option if you are at risk, says Ms McNamara.
So that new cough that lingers? “Don’t ignore it,” she advises. A persistent cough that stays around can be a possible sign. “See your doctor right away. He or she will listen to your lungs and may order an X-ray or other tests.”
McNamara also suggests getting checked out if you have shortness of breath, are wheezing or suffering from hoarseness and, most definitely, if you are coughing up blood or rust-coloured phlegm.
Remember that lung cancer can be curable if it’s caught early enough.
So visit www.quit.ie or call the Quitline, advises McNamara and take some positive action to change your habits.
Be cautious with vaping…
However, a word of warning about electronic cigarettes and vaping…
According to the Irish Cancer Society the jury is still out on the practice of e-cigarettes and vaping. There are concerns about whether they are genuine tools to help you quit, or whether they are simply making smoking more socially acceptable.
McNamara advises caution. “They are a new product and unregulated, so it’s unclear what is in each product. We don’t want to do down the road of normalising the image of smoking, particularly to young people, so it’s not something the Irish Cancer Society would recommend.”
Over 4,000 people have committed to quit smoking this year and you could be one of them. You can get advice from The Irish Cancer Society on symptoms and call the Quitline for support on 1800 201 203 or FREETEXT QUIT to 50100.
You can watch Gerry’s video here: