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Archive for July, 2011

Good news has just come from the California Department of Public Health, which recently reported that the state’s adult smoking rate has hit a record low. Last year, 11.9 percent of the state’s adults smoked, down from 13.1 percent in 2009. By comparison, in 1984, 26 percent of our state’s adults smoked.

This is a very encouraging trend.

Tobacco use causes a greatly increased risk of death. More deaths are caused by tobacco use (mostly in the form of cigarette smoking), than by HIV infection, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicide and murder combined.

Cigarette smoking causes one in five deaths in the U.S. each year, with about 400,000 deaths from direct smoking and 50,000 deaths from indirect smoke. On average, adults who smoke die 14 years sooner than nonsmokers. Between the years 1960 and 1990, deaths from lung cancer in women increased more than 500 percent.

Smoking damages nearly every organ in the human body. Here are some of the more common health problems caused by tobacco products:

– Cancer of the lung (23 times higher rate among smokers than nonsmokers)

– Cancers of the bladder, mouth, throat, vocal cords, esophagus, cervix, kidney, pancreas and stomach, and certain forms of leukemia

– Coronary heart disease, which usually leads to heart attacks

– Doubled risk of a stroke

– Blockage of blood flow to legs and feet, sometime leading to amputation

– Tenfold increase in likelihood of death from emphysema, a condition in which lung tissue is slowly destroyed by smoke

– Reproductive problems, such as infertility, early birth, stillbirth and impotency

– Decreased bone density in the elderly, leading to increased chance of fractures

It is estimated that more than 370 billion cigarettes are consumed by American smokers per year. In 2005, cigarette manufacturers spent more than $13 billion on advertising to lure people into smoking. What is the cost to our financially precarious health care system? It is estimated that cigarette smoking costs $96 billion yearly in health care expenditures and another nearly $100 billion in lost productivity.

I personally find all of this data shocking. We, in this society, must take a firmer stand against the use of all tobacco products. Every day, more than 1,000 American teenagers begin smoking. We need do a better job in preventing our youth from beginning to smoke and to get those, young and old, who are already addicted to tobacco to quit.

For those of you who wish to quit but have been unable to do it on your own, your doctor has various treatment options that could help you.

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With the arrival of summer, many of us will be traveling by airplane. Those of us who are older than 50 can remember going in and out of airports free of any type of security measures. Now, to board a plane, we have to nearly disrobe, get patted down and, most recently, pass through full-body scanners that take an image of our body.

About 500 full-body scanners are in use at airports throughout America, falling into one of two types: Half are millimeter-wave scanners, and half are backscatter x-ray scanners.

Millimeter-wave scanners use radio waves to create an image of the body and produce no ionizing radiation. Backscatter x-ray scanners use ionizing radiation, which is the type of radiation that can cause tissue damage and cancer.

So, are full-body scanners safe? Depends who you listen to.

There is not much concern about side effects from the millimeter-wave scanners. Regarding backscatter x-ray scanners, a study done by radiation experts at the University of California, San Francisco, School of Medicine concludes that they are safe. The study states it would take more than 50 full-body scans by the backscatter x-ray scanner to equal the radiation exposure of one dental x-ray; 1,000 scans to equal a chest x-ray; and 200,000 scans to equal a CAT scan.

The study also provides many statistics to show that the use of x-ray scanners would produce only a trivial increase in cancer, such as six more cases of cancer among 100 million people scanned.

Other investigators have calculated a higher, although still extremely low, risk of cancer from the x-ray scanner. There are many who would argue that this is a small risk and may be acceptable, given the possibility of stopping a terrorist.

I assume the statistics I quoted from the study are probably correct, but I have several questions:

**Are the machines working properly to give the correct amount of radiation?

**Is any risk of increased cancer, albeit extremely small, worth the risk?

**If we have the non-ionizing millimeter-wave scanner that appears to be safe, then why would the backscatter x-ray scanner be used at all?

Each of us needs to decide what to do when we go through airport security. As for myself, I wouldn’t think twice about going through the millimeter-wave scanner. But, although I think that the risk of harm from the backscatter x-ray scanner is probably very small, if I have the luxury of time before boarding my plane, I’ll choose to get a pat-down as opposed to the x-ray scan.

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