Sunday, September 25, 2011 | Categories: Michael's Essays
There's an old and possibly apocryphal story that on a visit to Ottawa years ago some Russian premier or other was astonished at the number of prostitutes in the city.
He couldn't get over the dozens of women outside public buildings, smoking, even in the dead of winter.
The Russkie was gently informed that they were not prostitutes but simply women who like to smoke and because of the laws, had to do it in the open air.
I would bet that most of those women and their male counterparts would have yearned to quit smoking.
But there is nothing harder.
I finally quit after years of smoking because I got tired of quitting.
As Dwight Eisenhower said after D-Day, I may smoke again, but I'll never quit again.
Which is why the smoking cessation drug industry is worth billions of dollars.
In the US alone it is estimated that of the 45 million who smoke, 32 million people would like to quit.
In Canada everybody is aware of the dangers of smoking.
Every package of DuMaurier or whatever tells us that.
Just read the warnings:
Tobacco use can make you impotent; tobacco smoke hurts babies; cigarettes cause strokes; each year, the equivalent of a small city dies from tobacco use; cigarettes leave you breathless.
The anti-smoking lobby in this country years ago realized it could be effective by demonizing the smoker, making those who indulge, social pariahs.
Which is why the prescription stop-smoking drugs are so popular.
But there is a problem.
Some of the drugs are on the face of it nastier than the addiction they are supposed to stop.
One of the most popular of these medications is Champix. It is also one of the most effective.
The technical name of the active ingredient is varenicline which blocks the release of dopamine in the pleasure centers of the brain.
It's for adult use only.
Its manufacturer, Pfizer, predicts sales of upwards a billion dollars a year.
But it has some intriguing and somewhat disturbing side effects.
Its commercials on television show the benefits of smoking cessation by using Champix but also have lengthy warnings about what it might do to some people.
You listen carefully to the commercial or read the list of side effects before you use it.
Among possible adverse reactions---abdominal pain, constipation, dizziness, flatulence. Headache, heartburn, gingivitis, sleep disturbance due to abnormal dreams, unusual fatigue, swollen eye lids, shortness of breath, severe skin rash with peeling, changes in mood, depression, thinking about harming oneself or others.
Now needless to say, chances of suffering one or two or any of these reactions are probably not very high. But the potential is there all the same.
The problem is not limited to stop smoking drugs. With all the miracle advances in medicine and pharmaceuticals, we are always confronted with the awful burden of choice.
Do I go ahead with this serious back operation that might relieve my pain but could cause further damage? Do I ask my doctor for an untested procedure to ameliorate my MS but could also do me great injury?
Should I take a drug that can help me quit smoking at the risk of incurring serious side effects?
Modern drugs are of course a godsend for many of us. But there is always risk attendant upon using them.
As the commercials keep telling us; always check with your doctor.
Incidentally, if you want to quit smoking, instead of having a coffee with your cigarette, have a tall glass of water or skim milk.
You'll never smoke again.