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The suicide bombers among us

By Dr Paul Eleftheriou, Medical Administration (RACMA) Registrar, Epworth HealthCare

Suicide was once a romanticised form of ending one’s life. For soldiers or freedom fighters alike, suicide was a way to not succumb to the enemy – an honourable means to an end.

I’m not planning on focussing on suicide here – it’s a major issue and, unfortunately, a taboo topic.

Instead, I want to bring light to another form of suicide – the slow form, smoking cigarettes.

People who still smoke cigarettes despite decades of health warnings, in-your-face graphic depictions of disgusting sequelae and the information age’s access to facts, are slowly committing suicide.

They are slowly killing themselves despite knowing their fate. Slowly killing others close to them. Just like suicide bombers, they take people down with them.

Now, unless you have an intellectual difficulty or are at the stage of adolescence where you have to ‘fit in’ or need impress the opposite sex (I’m no hypocrite, I too have had a brief affair with a cigarette in the heat of the moment), there is no excuse.

You live in this country, are at an age of decent maturity, you can read or listen to warnings, means don’t bloody smoke! Hence, I’ve come to the conclusion that those who continue to puff on the cancer sticks are very slowly killing themselves, minute by minute – committing suicide in slow motion.

It also amazes me the amount of times I’ve given sincere (yet somewhat blunt) advice to patients regarding this dirty habit. I’m actually shaking my head as I write this because I recall the slightly shocked yet guilty look on their faces when I tell them “Smoking is bad for everything…yes it affects every single organ, skin, lungs, brain, arteries, everything!”

My most notable interaction was at a family event when an acquaintance – while puffing on his white/orange suicide trigger – exclaimed in utter disgust that “if they’re that bad, I’m quitting now! I had no idea”. I humbly pointed out the picture of cancerous lips on his cigarette pack, to which he dramatically threw his cigarette butt onto my innocent lawn – success I thought. No. I hear that a few days later he re-commenced his slow suicide. I thought to myself, he works, he reads and listens, he has multiple health problems, does he live under a rock? Better that he did perhaps. This way he wouldn’t be killing anyone around him.

I want to rephrase. Smoking is worse than suicide.

I’d imagine a quick death is relatively painless for the most part, yet I don’t condone suicide in any way or form.

The point I’m making is that smoking is worse because it’s torture.

I’ve been fortunate enough to work at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, where I was among some of the bravest patients I’ve ever encountered.

Everyone is wise in retrospect, but dying lung cancer patients (the vast majority of whom were, or continued to be, smokers) all regret the nasty habit.

As the recent Quit campaign memorably put it, “Dying is the least of your worries”. The heart-wrenching sight of emaciated terminally-ill patients left me bewildered – how could people still smoke, knowing this could be their fate?

Maybe it should be compulsory for current smokers to wander through some of these wards to take a glimpse of their future – this would be a far better deterrent than tax hikes or plain packaging. Smoking is suicide, but a tortuous one.

I’ve dealt with countless smoking patients, family and friends who attest that giving up the habit is “really hard!” I know it is. I’ve studied addiction pathways in the brain, and they’re powerful. We know this.

But once again, simple logic applies. If someone told me that this great short-term feeling of taking a puff – that only lasts seconds or minutes – would give me terrible skin, unsightly teeth, horrible lungs, dodgy vessels and, after all that, would inevitably shorten my life by about a decade or more…am I an idiot? Small short-lived ‘high’ for an immensely negative outcome which just kills you – a few decades of torture then suicide. Resist the temptation.

We as a community need to ban smoking.

Furthermore, the aggressive marketing of cigarettes into developing countries is despicably immoral. We need to shut them down once and for all.

The actions of ‘instant’ suicide bombers are always condemned, as they cut innocent bystanders’ lives short.

We must condemn the ‘slow’ suicide bombers too, as they also kill more than just themselves.

This has to stop. I hope I can live long enough to see a smoking-free world – before I too am taken out by a smoking suicide bomber.

 

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