Tag Archives: smoking

CVS’s anti-smoking gambit


How things have changed. There was a time when even doctors pushed tobacco smoking! Source

Drugstore giant CVS recently shocked the world by announcing they would stop selling tobacco products by october 1st of this year. It’s an understatement to say that this has made big news, and is being treated by some as a watershed moment in the history of tobacco smoking, possibly helping to drive this health-destroying habit further underground. This decision may result in other drugstores following CVS’s lead.

It is estimated that this move will cost CVS $2 billion a year in lost sales. Call me crazy, but it makes no sense for a company to do something that will hurt its bottom line. Unless of course this allows CVS to capitalize in other areas.

According to Sarah Cliff at the Washington Post:

Executives said the move will cost the company $2 billion a year in lost sales. But they are gambling that abandoning smokers will help them strike more profitable deals with hospitals and health insurers — and appeal to growing ranks of customers newly insured under the Affordable Care Act.

This does make sense in a way, but wouldn’t it have been possible for them to have made these deals while still selling cigarettes? Or do they expect that the public will see a big halo around CVS, because they don’t sell tobacco products? Whatever the reasons, this is definitely a good thing.

It remains to be seen how this will play itself out, but I doubt it will help inspire a lot of people kick the habit. If smokers can’t buy cigarettes at CVS, they will just buy them elsewhere.

Regardless, this is a landmark event in the decline of smoking in the U.S, similar to the ban on tobacco ads on TV in 1971. The smoking rate has fallen from over 50% in the mid 20th century, to 18.1% among adults in the U.S. There are similar trends in most of the developed world. On top of this, smoking bans are in effect in so many cities across the U.S, that it is getting harder and harder for smokers to find a public place to light up. Increasingly, even some parks and college campuses are banning it. As a health-nut, I fully support this.

Whatever the ultimate reasons, let’s congratulate CVS for this bold move. Let’s hope it serves as a catalyst to help drive smoking further underground. Even if it is not a catalyst, this is a powerful signal for where society is heading. Some optimists are even predicting a U.S smoking rate in the single digits within a few decades.

If you need help quitting smoking, visit the American Lung Association “How to Quit Smoking” page.

Related articles:

Exercise can even benefit smokers


Cancerous lung. Picture is in the public domain

Think smokers are doomed to a shorter life span due to lung cancer, emphysema, or heart disease? Well, you are right, generally speaking.

Nevertheless, even smokers can lower their disease risk if they exercise. It appears to lower the lung cancer risk of smokers according to our friends at the American Association for Cancer Research:

PHILADELPHIA – In a study of more than 36,000 women, researchers observed that smokers can reduce their risk of developing lung cancer by being physically active. However, they strongly caution that any relative benefit is dwarfed by the benefits gained from quitting smoking.

(Emphasis mine)

This is good news, though the researchers behind this study can’t emphasize enough(and I can’t emphasize enough) that smokers should make every effort to quit smoking. That is vastly more beneficial than exercising while continuing to smoke. So if you do smoke, exercise more, exercise as much as possible, but do this while also trying to quit. Who knows, the exercise may even help you quit by helping you to rewire your brain. In my personal experience, smokers who were the most physically active were more likely to quit than sedentary smokers.

If your last effort to quit failed, try something new. Try juggling, try swimming, try aversion therapy, try yoga(but not “Smoga”, look it up on Youtube, it’s sick and ridiculous).

Good luck to you if you’re a smoker or are close to someone who is.

Of drugs and juggling

As long as I can remember, I’ve had a deep fascination with addiction and drugs. The neighborhood I grew up in, though not necessarily a terrible one was surrounded by communities ravaged by drug addiction and the associated violence. The crack wars were raging and there were often spill-over effects into my usually peaceful neighborhood.

I remember the “troubled” kids at school, and the stories about their drug-addicted parents. There was the occasional death by overdose, leaving a child motherless or fatherless. I remember playing with friends in the park and discovering crack vials and hypodermic needles nestled in the grass. They often spooked us, since they indicated the presence of drug addicts in the park. We naively believed this drug paraphernalia and the drug addicts responsible for them weren’t supposed to be in our suburban park – this isn’t the south Bronx, this is the “safe” north Bronx.

The exact borders of that the hell-on-earth called the south Bronx was and still is disputed. Us kids who grew up painfully close to it always liked to think of it as being very far away, though it always crept a bit closer each year. We always knew not to walk too far toward it, lest our souls get destroyed, since we always heard horrible stories about it which indicated an absence of civilization there. I remember many childhood friends moving upstate to escape from the horrific violence and social decay that appeared to be crawling closer.

In response to this, the schools did all they could to terrify us kids so that we would never do drugs. They told us how bad drugs were, never to use them, and to say “no” to smoking since it is a “gateway” drug(yet so many adults, even the ones against drugs smoked, which confused us children). Anti-drug messages were plastered almost everywhere – it is a “war” after all. “Drugs” already struck terror in me due to a neighbor I knew who died from an overdose. And every now and then a celebrity would die from a drug overdose or get arrested for possessing drugs. It often seemed that all celebrities were drug addicts, for some perplexing reason, as if you needed to do drugs to be a celebrity. These “glamorous” celebrity drug addicts were in very sharp contrast to the filthy homeless drug addicts we regularly encountered around town.

I never did take any drugs and my friends for the most part were drug-free, but by high school I would witness kids bringing drugs to school and even smoking pot in the bathrooms. And so many students smoked cigarettes.

I always wondered how otherwise intelligent people could become addicted to substances that rob them of their health, and in a large enough dose, their life. It’s like these substances “trick” the mind in some ways, to get a person to do something that is not in their best interest. The “trick” is that drugs tend to make people feel wonderful; it’s an escape, its empowering. The anti-drug crusaders in grammar school tended to leave this out of their anti-drug diatribes(they seem funny in retrospect), which made drug addiction very mysterious to us.

There still is a certain element of mystery in all of this, even if we can understand how substances like cocaine or nicotine trigger the pleasure centers(especially on dopamine) of the brain. Science helps us understand addiction, but it currently offers little hope to people who want to overcome their addictions. Addictions are nowadays labeled “diseases” by the medical establishment, which always seemed bizarre to me.

Whatever it is, it is obvious that some people are more prone to addiction than others. Some people can snort cocaine occasionally and never become addicted. Most people who drink are not alcoholics. Some people are so hopelessly addicted that even the best detox and addiction treatments fail to help them. People like this are looked down on by society, and are often alienated from friends and family, especially if they turn to crime to support their addiction.

People who manage to overcome their addictions often do so by “fixing” the underlying psychological issues that drives them to do drugs as a form of “self-medication”. Indeed, psychiatric problems are often co-morbid with addictive behavior. If their psychiatric problem is treated properly, it is often much easier for them to overcome their addiction(except perhaps their doctor prescribed medication, assuming they need medication). It looks like replacing one addiction with another.

Another way some addicts become drug free is through religious rebirth. It’s almost a cliche: The addict has hit bottom, their entire life is one big hopeless mess. Even their families and friends have given up on them and they have no reason to live. But then they have this epiphany. They see the light. They hear or feel God, and they regain their strength and will to live. They manage to give up drugs by devoting themselves to God. In some ways, these religious feelings approximate the “high” they experienced through drugs, so this in turn may be another case of replacing one addiction with another addiction.

Some other addicts may overcome their addiction through sports or physical activity. It’s well known that vigorous exercise can cause a drug-like “high”, so this may be an ideal approach to overcoming addictions. This doesn’t mean it can help everyone. Yet again, this is replacing one addiction with another, though this is a much healthier, life-affirming addiction.

IMG_0823Which brings me to the subject of juggling. Can it help people overcome addiction? It is a physical activity and it can bring about a “high” if done long enough. It does require intense focus, to the point that a juggler can get lost in the activity and keep doing it for long periods of mine. Sort of like an addiction! I know of a few jugglers who can juggle for several hours straight with little to no breaks. Sometimes this includes me. But is this a kind of addiction, or do we only use “addiction” to refer to compulsively doing something that are detrimental to our health? Can juggling be a helpful replacement addiction to overcome deadlier additions?

As a person with a passion for juggling, I always run the risk of over-stating its benefits. It’s certainly not bad for you, but it is hardly a panacea, and there is little to no evidence it may be beneficial for your mental health in a manner different from other forms of exercise. What I mean is that the benefits of juggling may very well be generic effects, since it is a form of exercise, and any form of exercise that significantly raises your heart rate has benefits. We do know that exercise can be addictive for some people, and since juggling does count as exercise, it can also be addictive.

The brain is such a magnificent organ. No computer can come close to doing what it can do. Yet it still has serious flaws that can lead a person to do self-destructive things, regardless of how “smart” they are. Trying to outsmart an addiction is really just another way of saying we should try to outsmart ourself. Unfortunately, the smarter a person is, the easier it might be for them to rationalize their addiction.

Whatever you want to call it that is in the brain that leads to addiction, a “flaw” or “genetic predisposition”, it’s a part of being a complete human, and it’s a part of being uniquely you, and could just as easily be used to do good as do bad. For as François de La Rochefoucauld once said: “Our virtues are most frequently but vices disguised.”