The medical facts of smoking


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I clipped a paragraph from the Journal of the American Medical Association:

The board now believes that it has a further responsibility to both the medical profession and the general public to state that in its judgment the clinical, epidemiological, experimental, chemical and pathological evidence presented by the many studies reported in recent years indicates beyond a reasonable doubt that cigarette smoking is the major cause of the unprecedented increase in lung cancer.
With my red ball-point pen I underlined two phrases —"clinical, epidemiological, experimental, chemical and pathological evidence" (which covers the whole field of medicine and research) and "beyond a reasonable doubt." And below that I wrote: "In a first-degree murder trial, the jury must vote for conviction if it believes the defendant guilty “beyond a reasonable doubt.”

But I soon paid no more attention to that slip than I did to the few words on the blue excise stamps that seal every pack of cigarettes sold in the country. I gave my message away, finally, to some chap who thought it might help him stop smoking.

However, these have all been negative points. Fear campaigns don't work, since we just make believe that it "can't happen to us." We hate to fail—and so we continue to smoke rather than face the private and public humiliation of failure. Our mind performs acrobatics so that we forget what we do not like to remember.

But what about the positive facts? What about the pleasures of smoking that we do like to remember? The most universally accepted rationalization about smoking is that a cigarette helps you relax. I accepted this statement for years. It seemed logical, because any time I was tense or nervous, I reached for a cigarette. What's more, when I tried to stop smoking I became tense and nervous. Ergo: Smoking relaxes you.

Unless you examine the facts carefully, it's easy to accept this bromide. Even now you want to believe it to be true, because part of you wants to continue smoking. The simple truth is that not one of the 200 chemical substances in the smoke of a cigarette is in any way soothing to your nervous system.


Quite to the contrary, the smoke you inhale can be a serious irritant to the nervous system. A single puff on a cigarette can stimulate the heart in some smokers to beat as many as twenty-eight extra times in a minute. The smoking contracts the blood vessels; then the heart must beat faster to send the blood circulating.

The Mayo Clinic established that contraction of the blood vessels could endure for one hour after the cigarette has been finished. For many of us who smoke just one cigarette an hour, our blood pressure is never normal. Multiply those extra twenty-eight beats per minute by fourteen cigarettes (hence, fourteen hours) of smoking. It amounts to 23,520 extra beats for the heart every day. Even without the corroborating reports from the heart specialists, it's easy to see that this extra work for your heart can't be doing your health any good.