Hi! Let’s talk about a very important topic this week – smoking. The article, as with all of them in this series is not designed to take the place of medical advice and if you do have any concerns of that nature then you should, as always seek advice from your doctor.

Let’s start with some facts. South Asians are up to a shocking six times more likely to develop type 2 diabetes compared to the general UK population. They have almost double the risk of having a stroke and yet many will smoke. You might be surprised to know that a striking 25% of Pakistani men, and 36% of Bangladeshi men smoke. See where I am going with this? In this country, fifteen million Britons are living with a long-term health condition, yet studies show living healthily in middle-age can double your chances of living healthy when you are 70. Smoking can cause a whole host of health problems and it increases risks of heart attacks, strokes and many other health conditions.

So why do people smoke? Whether you are a smoker, or non-smoker, this article is for you. We are ambassadors for change, and we will influence the future health of our communities directly by encouraging for example health education. Some smoke cigarettes, others roll-ups, hookah etc. but whichever way you wrap up the tobacco, smoking is smoking. The health hazards will remain, and people will inevitably become sick and some will die. We all know about nicotine dependence and how cigarettes are ‘addictive’. However, evidence suggests that there are a group or cohort of people who smoke and deny that smoking affects their health or could do in the future. This can present a challenge as public health strategies may find it difficult to engage with these particular people.

Interventions exist to get people off tobacco and to live healthier lives. So let’s see how smoking kills not only the smoker, but also the people around them and the economy!

I think it’s fair to say that public health campaigns, and general health education is improving and therefore we can see a decline in smoking. But – perhaps I should capitalise this – BUT, smoking is a key contributor to disease and death in this country, even today. Some sources say that NHS costs can amount to £2.7 billion per year, with a £2.5 billion cost to the economy either through sick leave or lost productivity. We are improving as a whole with less people smoking, and here is an absolute shocker: in 1948, 82% of men smoked, which is the highest level recorded in the country. It has taken half a century to reduce that figure to where it is today, but it still isn’t zero is it?

So let’s have a whistle-stop tour of smoking. Smoke – it contains thousands of chemicals, many of them are harmful yet smokers inhale them with every puff. Two of these chemicals are nicotine, as I have mentioned and carbon monoxide – the colourless, odourless gas that kills! Smoking increases blood pressure and heart rate as a result of nicotine, whereas the carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen your blood can carry. In an attempt to compensate for this, the heart races a little faster damaging arteries and leading to cardiovascular disease. It isn’t just the heart that is at risk though. It is every organ in the body from stroke, to periodontitis, to lung cancer, COPD and emphysema etc.

It’s not all doom and gloom however as it still isn’t too late. Stopping smoking can cut your cardiovascular risk after just 1 year of quitting. The risk of stroke falls as does that of cancer. So now is the time to quit! And what about the people around smokers? Well they inhale second-hand smoke and therefore are passive smokers. To protect those around you if you smoke, is to stop. The harmful effects as I have already mentioned exist in tobacco smoke, and therefore anyone inhaling it can potentially become ill. Babies and children are at particular risk of this. Smoking in pregnancy is a health risk to the baby as there are increased risks of complications.

And not only does it harm your health, but also your wallet or purse. Costs of cigarettes is always on the up, and a pack of 20 could set you back just less than a tenner. If you smoke a pack a day, you could be looking at spending over three and a half grand a year – that’s about £36, 500 in 10 years. There are definitely better ways to spend that hard-earned cash. The government is trying its best to cut smoking out. Whether this is by increasing price of cigarettes, or having plain boxes without any advertisement, one thing you will always see is a large warning about the health risks. We have in recent years seen smoking banned from public places, and rightly so.

So what can you do to stop? Well there is a whole list of help that you can get. The first advice is to speak with your GP who can give you information on quitting smoking – one of the best decisions you could possibly make if you smoke.

There is also a NHS Smokefree helpline that you can call. You may be signposted to certain products that may help, but again, talk to your doctor! Whichever way you go about it, wouldn’t it be better to breathe in fresh air?

So why are the Asian community more susceptible to developing certain diseases? Well it’s a mix of nature – or genetics, and nurture – lifestyle. So whilst diabetes, ischaemic heart disease and the rest are more prone to be found in the Asian community, there is a lot we can do to prevent such diseases from occurring including stopping smoking. How many family members and friends do you know that smoke? And if you are a smoker, what motivates you and what is getting in the way? If you think there are things you can do to change with some professional help then why don’t you start? Just because both of your parents smoked, had diabetes and coronary stents, it does not necessarily mean that you will inherit all their diseases. The genetics may be there, but you are in charge of your own lifestyle!

One size does not fit all, and if you are uncertain about any health needs that you have – talk to your doctor.

I hope that leaves you with some questions, and some of which only you may have the answers. Reflect and enjoy the journey! You can follow my Twitter feed on @Faraaz_Bhatti and let’s talk about important health issues. If you would like me to discuss any specific issue or get a conversation going then feel free to let me know.