Monday, July 17, 2017

Smoking is No. 1 Killer: 10 Filipinos die every hour.

Smoking ban  takes effect July 22, 2017 
This article is dedicated to smokers trapped in the vice like me many years ago - until one day I found my true self and a happy world.  I'm now in my mid seventies, active and hale and fulfilled. 
From cigarette to pipe smoking – then I stopped. A personal saga.  
Dr Abe V Rotor
Living with Nature School on Blog

 I did not only smoke cigarettes, I graduated to pipe tobacco smoking.

When you have tasted Half-and-Half or Captain Black, believe me Marlboro and Philip Morris taste flat. That’s how one gets addicted to more and stronger nicotine. And having a pipe on a Monday, and a dozen more to fit each day or occasion, and dress code, makes 

 A pipe a day, for an occasion, for a particular wear. Remaining part of my collections for years.

you stand out of the crowd, so to speak. Wow! Sikat! And you feel a special person. For in the seventies, up to now, pipe smoking people have either the British or American accent. I even tried Australian but settled poorly with Ilocano, my native tongue. Now compare pipe tobacco with pinadis (hand rolled cigar) tobacco, exaggeratedly foot-long. I almost forgot my origin.

So you see smoking is air, it is high society, it is macho, it is advertising something you do not really have, or have to. I wore coat and tie once in a while with Sherlock Holmes’ “S” pipe, or wore khaki jacket and denim pants and had MacArthur corn cob pipe. I also had pipes with the bowl covered with genuine leather from camel, kangaroo and anaconda, and made people believe I have gone all over the world including the Amazon. Which actually I hadn’t except a stopover once in Europe which introduced me to the idea of shifting to pipe smoking.

And I had a friend, Sel, who shared the same idea. So after finishing our doctorate, we started scouting for the best pipe in town. Definitely it should be briar wood because it’s the only wood that does not burn, and its nesting weight on the palm of the hand is assuring. I suspect that it’s being a briar is not the species but the age of the wood, perhaps as old as the Redwood or the Bristle Cone, estimated two to three thousand years old. Imagine holding a piece of time as early as BC. And history! Just like what the great English poet William Blake said, “Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour.” You hold too, time and space. Pipe smoking leads you to hallucination.

I tell you what the substance is – the filler tobacco - that rouses the olfactory more than grandma's pie? It must come from a combination of selected tobacco varieties, cured with the best liqueur, and hermetically sealed to greet the user as fresh as it was blended. In Europe a blend is highly personalized, like wine. This is top secret of connoisseurs. For us here, I for one settled for two brands, American and European pipe tobacco in can, then the only available ones. Believe me the difference between the two is indistinguishable. It’s still Nicotiana tabacum, the same tobacco of Fidel Ramos, Deng Hsiao Ping, Fidel Castro, et al.

More about the art of pipe smoking. I lit my pipe with a special lighter whose flame goes downward into the bowl, and witnessed in the process of huff-and puff a Krakatoa in the making. I peered into the glowing crater. Then I would savor the maiden smoke as fresh as morning air, blowing it in a series of “O’s” which takes skill to perfect it. You don’t inhale, unlike cigarette. The smoke runs through the oral to the nasal cavity and out through the nostril, gently fuming a cloud of smoke that surrounds the face, with your eyes half close in dreamy relaxation. It was really thrilling, exhilarating. What on a Sunday morning with brewed black coffee and newspaper and elevated feet?. Ah, and ahs….

Some high-chin and easy-chair years passed. I was in my middle thirties, still a bachelor. I wondered if pipe smoking attracted women of my liking. Or did I drive them to safe distance? On the mirror I didn’t change, not a bit American or European. Not even with sparse mustache  which I jokingly tell my barber it is insured like that of Clark Gable. My lips were a little deformed now, and being right handed the pipe tended to settle rightward, with some teeth bearing the weight giving up. My lips lost their natural curve and color, and my teeth permanently stained no toothpaste would dare clean it in advertisement. My fingers could be mistaken for pellagra. If only they had the Midas touch!

I reeked tobacco. People avoided me, but how did I know, if I couldn't even smell myself? It’s true. Smokers are immune to the smell of tobacco, and it is stale odor – breath, sweat, clothes, books, bed, and the like - so whom would they trust to tell them so? And my skin became dull and dry, and episodes of feeling down became frequent – so with refilling and caressing my pipe. In short I was already addicted to the nicotine and the pipe is now only secondary to it.

Nicotine is a poison, a very strong one. The extract of one stick of cigarette when directly injected into the blood stream will immediately kill the person. So why don’t we die with packs and packs of cigarette or can after can of mixed tobacco?

Doctors tell us that it’s not the nicotine per se that kills, it’s tar its carrier and a dozen other poisonous substances. The tar deposits into the alveoli, the countless air sacs in the lungs, constricts blood vessels, and stains teeth and clothes. The alkaloids pile up in the kidneys and liver, and restrict natural elimination of other toxins. Elevated heart and pulse rate is our body’s coping mechanism, but like a car running uphill it loses steam fast and soon, until it conks out. Eyesight blurs, sense of taste deadens, so with sensation to touch, pain and pleasure. Alertness slows down, sex urge decreases and staying power shortens.

And it is not the tobacco plant itself that's the enemy; it is how it is grown. The plant picks up the arsenic dusted or sprayed, the lead and mercury in contaminated soil, so with cadmium from batteries today. Systemic pesticides that kill insects, nematodes and mites ensconced in the plant body, unreached by ordinary spraying, persist as residue of high dosage.

By the way, there’s something in the tobacco that changed biology on the concept of what really makes a thing living?. It is the tobacco mosaic virus, Marmor tabaci. The rod shape virus infects tobacco on the field just by rubbing or mere touch of a diseased to healthy plants. And it infects as well all members of the tobacco family - Solanaceae , to which Irish potato, pepper, eggplant, tomato belong. The virus remains dormant for as long as twenty years in the cigarette or filler. And when you touch any of the host plant, the virus resurrects and spreads out in the whole plant and onto neighboring plants. Luckily, scientists assures us the virus has no effect on humans.
But with millions all over the world dying from smoking and its many complications, I believe the virus has mutated - even if biologically it is not considered a true organism. Mutation is still governed by error in DNA replication. And the virus basically has the DNA structure like all things considered as living.

My favorite twin pipes. Note worn out 

Really there’s nothing good about smoking, contrary to advertisements. I wonder how one can go a mile for a Camel when he is already exhausted at the start. Didn’t the cowboy in Marlboro retire too soon? Salem doesn’t make a beautiful landscape. Fortune isn’t something one expects. Fighter did not make us in our time as brave as Buccaneer.

Take the economic side. Our DOH says the government spends every year some P235 billion a year to treat illnesses caused or related to smoking like heart diseases, stroke, emphysema and lung cancer. And what does the government get in return from the tobacco industry? Only P23 billion, a measly 10 percent of the cost. PDI’s editorial The Puff that Kills, June 1, 2011, reported smoking kills 10 Filipinos every hour, or 243 a day. That’s 87,600 a year – and that’s a conservative estimate. Here is a case of an “old” goose laying the golden eggs, not worth it.
One day I was diagnosed of ulcer in the mouth, a wound that doesn't heal. If you can’t eat, imagine the rapid decline in body weight and the various ailments you fall to. My clothes became oversized. I likened myself to a POW in a concentration camp in WWII.

“If you don’t stop smoking, you will die,” my doctor warned. “And soon!” he admonished.

Period. My pipes became museum pieces. A beautiful girl came along. We got married, and have three children. We are now living happily.

Smoking changed my life – when I stopped it completely. ~

The author with his students in the UST Graduate School; playing "monkey on my back" at Avilon Zoo, Rizal.  

This article is a tribute to the late Senator Juan Flavier and former health secretary (photo below, left) for his dedication in anti-smoking campaign. "Yosi Kadiri" was hailed to be a very effective slogan. 


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