If you smoked in 18th-century I Arabia or Turkey, you could expect two results: torture and I death. Today smoking cigarettes I doesn't lead to torture, but it most certainly
promotes death. Approximately 350,000 people per year die from tobacco-related illnesses in the United States-that's about 1,000 people a day. The statistics indicate that
about 32 percent of men and 26 percent of women still continue to smoke despite extensive warnings about the dangers of tobacco.
According to an article published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1987, habitual smoking causes more premature deaths than AIDS, cocaine, heroin, alcohol, fire, automobile accidents, homicide and suicide combined. In a tobacco-free society the life expectancy gain would be equal to that which we would experience if all cancers not caused by smoking were completely eliminated.
In addition to lung and other kinds of cancers, smoking is a well-known risk factor for atherosclerosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases, such as emphysema. Pregnant women who smoke cut off the oxygen supply to their developing fetuses, which results in growth retardation. The effect is like that of strangling an unborn baby-the most subtle form of child abuse.
Of the 4,000 known constituents of cigarette smoke, the most active in terms of behavioral effects is the alkaloid nicotine. Recent studies show that nicotine is one of the most addicting substances known, and smokers light up to maintain a constant nicotine level in their blood. The substance exerts both stimulant and depressive effects. Smokers cite increased alertness, better memory, relaxation, elimination of anxiety and relief of boredom as some of the effects they seek from smoking.
Those who try to quit face a withdrawal syndrome featuring such symptoms as tobacco craving, irritability, anxiety, restlessness, concentration difficulties, gastrointestinal problems, appetite changes and weight gain. The last two factors are of great interest to some people. Besides the slight ergogenic-stimulant effect of smoking, many people continue to smoke because they are afraid of gaining weight if they quit. Bodybuilders in Europe sometimes include smoking as part of a precontest regimen, the rationale being that smoking increases resting metabolic rate while reducing appetite, thus aiding the quest for definition.
Studies show that smoking does increase resting metabolic rate by about 12 percent. This happens because it causes a stress syndrome, which results in the release of stress hormones, such as norepinephrine and epinephrine. These substances, in turn, cause fat to be released from storage sites in the body. A secondary effect is the fact that smoking stimulates a thermogenic effect, which involves calories burned off as body heat.
Offsetting these beneficial effects, however, are a host of other liabilities associated with habitual smoking. For example, a Stanford University study showed that chronic smokers have a waist measurement that's greater than average. In simple terms, this means that they tend to store fat around their waists more often than nonsmokers. Besides the obvious aesthetic disadvantage fat in the abdominal area is associated with a fivefold increase in cardiovascular disease, particularly heart attacks.
The resistance to breathing during exercise increases threefold following just 15 puffs on a cigarette, and the effect lasts about 35 minutes. There are also decreases in maximum oxygen uptake, which leads to decreased endurance. A major component of cigarette smoke, carbon monoxide, has a 200 percent greater affinity for oxygen than the hemoglobin that transports oxygen in the blood. So in effect, people who smoke are choking themselves.
A recent study reported in the May 9, 1992 issue of the British journal Lancet found that regular smokers are insulin resistant and show elevated insulin levels in their blood. This is a metabolic picture that is usually seen in both obese individuals and type-2 diabetes patients. The significance here is that excessive insulin not only damages arteries, but also promotes bodyfat. Bodybuilders who smoke to increase their metabolisms may in fact be increasing their tendency to store fat. This is particularly true if the smoking is combined with a high-calorie or high-fat diet.
Considering all the health consequences associated with smoking, it just doesn't make sense to look to cigarettes as any kind of ergogenic aid. There are easier, far more healthy ways to boost your metabolism. Aerobics is one way. You can get a 40 percent or more boost in metabolism from aerobic exercise, which makes the measly 12 percent average increase derived from smoking pale in comparison.
And with aerobics your biggest health risk is saddle soreness or shin splints. So toss that cigarette where it belongs-in the garbage.