Tuesday, June 19, 2018
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At Large

Smoking and quality of life

If the past week was one devoted to thoughts of death, of sacrifice, of transforming the end of life to the beginning of a new one, the days right after Easter are perhaps best observed by turning our thoughts to birth, to life and to preserving it.

Maybe that’s why one popular observance on Easter Sunday, one admittedly popularized by Western media and those American-produced story books that beguiled our generation with stories of Dick and Jane and their life in suburbia, is the Easter egg hunt. Celebrating both Easter and his birthday, my nephew Jami hosted a potluck party with “children’s party as the peg,” he e-mailed us.

We showed up with our own contributions to the feast table and found out there was a bigger reason for the celebration than just Jami’s 33rd birthday. He announced that Janet, his girlfriend of more than 10 years, had accepted his proposal the week before. The loud cheers and clapping at the news was the product as much of impatience and joy as it was of surprise. And yes, I am putting it down in print to make sure Jami and Janet hold their wedding celebration soon!


Anyway, a highlight of Jami’s party was the Easter egg hunt. I understand they had begun painting the hard-boiled eggs with water-based paint but the designs soon faded and they gave up, choosing instead to hide the plain white eggs among the plants in the garden. The eggs, because of their shape, are supposed to symbolize life, telling a story at a single glance of the circle of life, a cycle broken by Christ when he died and rose and ascended to everlasting life.

And so it was that we celebrated our own earthly circle of life, with the younger members of the family skulking among the bushes and grasses in search of the eggs, and the older ones mulling the shifting generations and the promise of new family members to come.

* * *

But just as we welcome life and contemplate the conquest of death, it’s time to turn our attention to the more practical aspects of protecting this life and caring for the generations to come.

I’m thinking in particular of a new study that found how exposure to secondhand smoke, even for babies still in their mothers’ wombs, produces children with aggression and attention problems.

The dangers of smoking during pregnancy have long been documented: with stillbirth, premature delivery and low birth weight among the more serious complications. Now there’s a new study that shows a mother need not smoke to expose her unborn child to peril. Mothers who breathe secondhand smoke, it was found, are twice as likely to have children with attention and aggression problems.

HealthJustice Media, an antismoking advocacy group, recently released the results of a study conducted by researchers from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing among 646 mother-and-child pairs in China. In China, please note, more than 70 percent of men smoke, and many of these men would be the husbands of pregnant women, and the fathers of their babies.

The study found that 25 percent of children whose mothers were exposed to secondhand smoke exhibited behavioral problems. Contrast this with the finding that only 16 percent of children of unexposed mothers exhibited similar problems.


* * *

Explaining the 10-percent greater prevalence of “externalizing behavior problems” among children whose mothers were exposed to secondhand smoke, the researchers said they took factors like “parental education, occupation, psychological problems and marriage status” into account.

“Apart from attention problems and aggression in the children observed,” the study said, “the results showed that children of passive smoking mothers demonstrated worse performance on tests of speech and language skills, intelligence and conduct disorders.”

What caused such problems among such children? “It was posited that the reduction of blood and oxygen to the fetus, caused by exposure to secondhand smoke, altered brain growth and development during pregnancy thus resulting in altered behavior,” the research results said.

Lead author Jianghong-Liu, an associate professor at Penn Nursing, emphasized the importance of reducing the exposure of unborn children to secondhand smoke, not only to improve the health of mothers and their children, “but that of society at large.”

In the country, public health advocates are now calling for even stricter smoking regulations, alarmed as they are by the findings of the study in China.

* * *

“This study underscores the need for stricter regulations on smoking in public places in the Philippines. We need 100-percent smoke-free environments, to be able to effectively protect our people from secondhand smoke. This is particularly important for the Philippines, which is among the top 20 smoking nations in the world,” said Diana Trivino, project manager at HealthJustice. “If we are serious about sustainable public health, we also have to better educate our people about tobacco through picture warnings on cigarette packs. The picture warnings on cigarette packs ensure that less people, especially among the youth, start smoking in the first place, and that current smokers will be encouraged to stop smoking.”

“These changes—graphic health warnings on cigarette packs and smoke-free environments—they cannot come soon enough for people like me,” said Emer Rojas, cancer survivor and president of New Vois Association of the Philippines. “As a former smoker who almost died because of my smoking, I will never stop campaigning so that people don’t experience what I went through because of my smoking.”

And as our thoughts turn to life and living, let’s also pay heed to ways we can improve—and protect—the quality of life of those who will make up our future.

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