Over the years, we have seen plenty of individuals who smoke. But there is a large group of individuals who don’t smoke; instead use ‘Smokeless’ tobacco, with little realization on how harmful it really is.
Hopefully, this article will give you an insight into how bad this stuff is for your heart.
The use of tobacco has spanned hundreds of years. More interestingly though, the harmful effects of these compounds have been well known for as far back as the Mughal era. Jahangir even tried to ban it. King James I of England even described tobacco as a ‘custom loathsome to the eye, hateful to the nose, harmful to the brain and dangerous to the lungs’.
Smokeless tobacco refers to tobacco that is chewed or sniffed. There are various forms of smokeless tobacco in India, including gutka (powdered tobacco with areca nut and lime), pan (betel leaf with tobacco, areca nut and spices with lime), zarda (a chewing tobacco) and snuff. There are other forms available as well. In South Asia, up to 38% of the male and 28% of the female population use smokeless tobacco products.
Surprisingly (or not), even young adults and adolescents use this in some parts of our country. Gutka seems to be the highest in use in India.
Smokeless tobacco contains nicotine – the addictive element within the product. It is readily absorbed into the bloodstream when consumed. The levels reached through smoking a cigarette or chewing tobacco are almost the same.
Nicotine And Your Heart
When nicotine enters the blood, it stimulates the production of a number of chemicals such as dopamine, epinephrine, norepinephrine and vasopressin. These chemicals affect the function of the heart and the blood vessels, raising the heart rate and increasing the blood pressure.
However, it is not just the nicotine that raises the blood pressure.
The smokeless tobacco products also contain two additional components that can increase blood pressure – sodium and liquorice. While sodium is well known to increase blood pressure, liquorice blocks the breakdown of a group of compounds called mineralocorticoids. This increase sodium levels in the blood, and hence blood pressure.
In one particular study looking at the link between smokeless tobacco and cardiac risk factors, it was found that the heart rate increased by 19 beats per minute and blood pressure by 21/14 mmHg with every use of the products.
This will obviously place a lot of stress on the heart, increasing the risk of heart attacks. There have been a number of other studies that have not just looked at the link with risk factors, but also with how frequently heart attacks and other forms of heart disease occur in smokeless tobacco users.
Interestingly, a study conducted in Mumbai found that women who used smokeless tobacco had a higher risk of heart attacks than men.
Unfortunately, there are no concrete studies to prove a definite link between smokeless tobacco use and heart disease in India. However, most studies point more towards harm than no effect.
While this may be the case, one must not forget the other negative health effects of tobacco products. Addiction to the product is the most common problem and is the root cause for complications that occur in the later years. Oral cavity cancer is a well-known complication of long-term use.
We have personally seen patients have their tongue removed or their oral cavity reconstructed due to cancer, disfiguring their face. Women who use smokeless tobacco are at a greater risk of still births, heart problems in infants and low birth weight babies. Children who attempt to consume these products if they are lying around the house may die from nicotine toxicity.
Prevention is better than cure. Why tempt fate when you know well the harms that these products cause?
Many people blame fate when they develop cancers or heart disease, despite being advised many times the dangers these products bear. If you use smokeless tobacco, stop today.
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