By Chrispine Onyango
Growing up as a child, I viewed drinking and smoking as the privileges of adults. Those days, it appeared to me as ‘refreshing’ activities to engage in. I was wrong. People are actually aware that smoking and heavy drinking are unhealthy habits, as I am today, but not many realise just how much harm they can cause to one’s health. The media portrayal of smoking and alcohol use has certainly helped to extend the appeal of these social habits. The importance of public awareness about the dangers of heavy smoking and drinking has never be trivialised.
Smoking is bad for one’s health. Besides being a prominent risk factor for lung cancer, coronary artery disease, heart attack and stroke, smoking can damage almost any organ in our body. This could lead to leukaemia and cancers of the kidney, pancreas, bladder, throat, mouth and uterus. It can damage the airways and air sacs of one’s lungs to cause chronic bronchitis and breathing difficulties. Smoking can also raise blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduce bone density in women and increase the risk of infertility, preterm delivery, stillbirth and sudden infant death syndrome. Scientists say that cigarettes contain more than 4,000 chemical compounds and 400 toxic chemicals that include tar, carbon monoxide, DDT, arsenic and formaldehyde. The nicotine in cigarettes, in particular, makes them highly addictive.
Just like most people like to puff on, so are others who like to have a drink or two - be it beer, wine or spirits. Scientists say that light drinking is acceptable and may even be beneficial for the heart. On the contrary, heavy and binge drinking can lead to serious health complications. Certain groups of people should not drink alcohol at all. These include young people under the age of 18, expectant women, people with certain health conditions, patients on medication that will interact with alcohol, recovering alcoholics, and people who intend to drive or do activities that require attention and coordination.
Heavy drinking can lead to many serious health conditions. Binge drinking can cause immediate problems such as acute intoxication, nausea and vomiting, blurred vision, impaired judgment and alcohol poisoning. In the long term, heavy alcohol consumption can cause high blood pressure, gastric problems, liver cirrhosis, liver cancer, pancreatitis, memory impairment, alcohol dependence and various psychological conditions. Excessive alcohol drinking can also result in accidental injuries and even death. Also, expectant women who drink heavily can harm their babies.