Stop blowing smoke — tobacco kills, in every form

For all we’ve heard, read or been told by experts, physicians and concerned friends or family, tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. Yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes. More than half of these smokers have attempted to quit for at least one day in the past year. There also are approximately 13.2 million cigar smokers in the U.S., and 2.2 million who smoke tobacco in pipes.

But cigarettes, pipes and cigars are only one third of this axis of unhealthy evil — when you add smokeless tobacco products and now, e-cigarettes, the numbers increase dramatically, as do the personal and national healthcare costs.

November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month, but rather than focus on lung cancer specifically, let’s take a look at the role tobacco products play in destroying your health, and in contributing directly to lung cancer, other cancers and respiratory illnesses. Consider these facts:

  • Tobacco contributes to 5 million deaths worldwide every year. For centuries, cigarettes have remained basically the same:  Tobacco rolled in paper. What makes them so deadly are the estimated 4,000 chemicals they give off when lit. Some of those chemicals, like arsenic, formaldehyde and lead can cause cancer and a long list of other deadly diseases.
  • Chewing tobacco comes as long strands of loose leaves, plugs, or twists of tobacco. Pieces, commonly called plugs, wads, or chew, are chewed or placed between the cheek and gum or teeth. The nicotine in the piece of chewing tobacco is absorbed through the mouth tissues. The user spits out the brown saliva that has soaked through the tobacco.
  • An e-cigarette is a battery-powered tube about the size and shape of a cigarette. A heating device warms a liquid inside the cartridge, creating a vapor you breathe in. Puffing on an e-cigarette is called “vaping” instead of “smoking.” E-cigarettes also make chemicals, but in much smaller numbers and amounts than tobacco cigarettes.

The devil is in the details: Smokeless tobacco

Smokeless tobacco products are glorified through their use by many professional athletes, especially baseball players. In addition to the chewing tobacco mentioned above, snuff — which is finely ground tobacco packaged in cans or pouches — also is popular.

Moist snuff is used by placing a pinchdiplipper, or quid between the lower lip or cheek and gum. The nicotine in the snuff is absorbed through the tissues of the mouth. Moist snuff is also available in small, teabag-like pouches or sachets that can be placed between the cheek and gum. These are designed to be both “smoke-free” and “spit-free” and are marketed as a discreet way to use tobacco. Dry snuff is sold in a powdered form and is used by sniffing or inhaling the powder up the nose.

Data collected in 2012 showed that about 3.5 percent of people aged 12 and older in the United States used smokeless tobacco — that’s about 9 million people. Use of smokeless tobacco was higher in younger age groups, with more than 5.5 percent of people aged 18 to 25 saying they were current users. About 1 million people age 12 and older started using smokeless tobacco in the year before the survey. About 46 percent of the new users were younger than 18 when they first used it.

The damages from smokeless tobacco products include throat, tongue, sinus, jaw, esophageal and mouth cancers, lesions, damage to teeth and gums, heart disease and stroke.

What you should know about e-cigarettes

All e-cigarettes work basically the same way. Inside, there’s a battery, a heating element, and a cartridge that holds nicotine and other liquids and flavorings. Features and costs vary. Some are disposable. Others have a rechargeable battery and refillable cartridges.

The nicotine inside the cartridges is addictive. When you stop using it, you can get withdrawal symptoms including feeling irritable, depressed, restless and anxious. It can be dangerous for people with heart problems. It may also harm your arteries over time and contribute to respiratory ailments, heart disease and cancers.

So far, evidence suggests that e-cigarettes may be safer than regular cigarettes. The biggest danger from tobacco is the smoke, and e-cigarettes don’t burn. Tests show the levels of dangerous chemicals they give off are a fraction of what you’d get from a real cigarette. But what’s in them can vary, and while they may appear to be safer, research now being conducted requires years’ of statistical information to identify actual side effects… and by then, the damage will have occurred in regular users.

Quitting is hard, but you can increase your chances of success with help. The American Cancer Society can tell you about the steps you can take to quit smoking and provide the resources and support that can increase your chances of quitting successfully. To learn about available tools, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

# # #

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Tell the fairy to keep the sweet tooth

Oh, how we love our sugar. As we come off our annual Halloween high and contemplate the approaching holidays, now would be a good time to take stock of how our individual and collective sweet teeth are affecting our personal health and the healthcare costs we all help shoulder.

In the United States alone, 25.8 million children and adults — 8.3 percent of the population — have diabetes. Only 18.8 million have been diagnosed, meaning another 7 million are walking around sick, and medical researchers estimate that 79 million people are pre-diabetic, with 1.9 million new cases of diabetes diagnosed annually in people aged 20 and older.

According to the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health, Type 2 diabetes has become one of the most common and costly diseases in the United States and around the world, creating an enormous, and costly, strain on the U.S. healthcare system.

Beyond the physical and quality-of-life costs, the costs of diagnosed diabetes in the United States are approximately $245 billion, including $176 billion for direct medical costs. Complications include heart disease and stroke, high blood pressure, kidney and nervous system diseases, blindness and an increased risk of amputation of lower limbs from complications including poor circulation and wounds.

According to researchers, the side effects of diabetes also represent $69 billion in reduced productivity. And after adjusting for population age and sex differences, average medical expenditures among people with diagnosed diabetes were 2.3 times higher than what expenditures would be in the absence of diabetes.

With November being Diabetes Awareness Month, this is a good time to take stock of your diet and exercise routines. Studies by the National Diabetes Research Foundation have determined that just 30 minutes of moderate physical activity daily, and a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in body weight can reduce the risk of diabetes by almost 60 percent. To help you achieve these goals, here are healthy living tips for the whole family:

  • Try to eat regular, balanced meals every four to five hours. Smaller amounts eaten more often are better for healthy blood-sugar levels
  • Eat carbohydrates in moderation. Carbohydrates raise blood sugar more than foods with protein or fat. Carbohydrates include milk, fruit, bread, rice, pasta, potatoes, corn and peas.
  • Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables every day.
  • Eat more fiber from whole grains and dried beans.
  • Eat less fat and less saturated fat. Choose lean meats, low-fat dairy products and low-fat snack foods.
  • Use drinks that do not raise blood sugar such as water, diet soda, coffee and tea.
  • Choose desserts occasionally. Look for dessert foods that are lower in carbohydrates and fat.
  • Read labels, and be aware of your sugar intake – for example, one teaspoon of granulated sugar equals 4 grams of sugar. To put it another way, 16 grams of sugar in a product is equal to about 4 teaspoons of granulated sugar.
  • As possible, avoid or limit products with high fructose corn syrup, a commonly added sweetener found in most processed foods.
  • Look for healthy substitutes, such as mustard in place of ketchup, and avoid condiments like barbeque sauce, sweet relish and other flavor enhancers high in calories, fat, sodium and sugar.

While watching your nutritional intake and snacking is important, walking and moderate exercise every day or every other day also plays a critical role in preventing weight gain, reducing stress, strengthening heart health and reducing chances for diabetes later in life. We don’t have to punish ourselves — a little candy and dessert is good for our souls — but if eaten in moderation, your chances of avoiding sugar-related health issues will improve exponentially and that’s pretty sweet!

# # #

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Excuse me while I snooze

We’ve just changed the clocks. The days are getting darker earlier, and they’re busier than ever with school, autumn sports, and activities going at full blast. With the return to earlier mornings and a fuller schedule, chances are you and your family members are on the go constantly and you’re tired. When we’re behind in our sleep, it affects how we perform, behave, get along with others, and our overall health. And with the holidays right around the corner, the pace is going to quicken even more. So it’s important to think about how much sleep we’re getting now and how best to ensure good sleep hygiene practices.

Sleeping well is as critical to our overall health and productivity as diet and exercise, and is important for everyone, from childhood through adulthood. A good sleep hygiene routine promotes healthy sleep and daytime alertness, and can prevent the development of sleep problems and certain disorders.

What is good sleep hygiene?

Sleep disturbances and daytime sleepiness are the most telling signs of poor sleep hygiene. The most important sleep hygiene measure is to maintain a regular sleep and waking pattern seven days a week. It is also important to spend an appropriate amount of time in bed, not too little, or too much. This varies by individual; for example, if someone has a problem with daytime sleepiness, they should spend a minimum of eight hours in bed. If they have difficulty sleeping at night, they should limit themselves to seven hours in bed in order to keep the sleep pattern consolidated. Age and other issues also affect how much you should be sleeping.

Good sleep hygiene practices include a variety of elements you can influence. Here are 10 common hints for improving restfulness:

  • Avoid napping during the day; it can disturb the normal pattern of sleep and wakefulness.
  • Avoid stimulants such as caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol too close to bedtime. While alcohol is known to speed the onset of sleep, it disrupts sleep in the second half of your cycle as the body begins to metabolize the alcohol.
  • Exercise can promote good sleep. Vigorous exercise should be practiced in the morning or late afternoon. A relaxing exercise, like yoga, can be done before bed to help initiate a restful night’s sleep.
  • Food can be disruptive right before sleep; stay away from large meals close to bedtime. Also dietary changes can cause sleep problems — for example, it’s not a good time to snack on spicy or greasy dishes in the evening. And, remember, chocolate contains caffeine, though it has many healthy properties, as well.
  • Ensure adequate exposure to natural light. This is particularly important for older people who may not venture outside as frequently as children and adults. Light exposure helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
  • Establish a regular, relaxing bedtime routine. Try to avoid emotionally upsetting conversations, activities and TV shows before trying to go to sleep. Don’t dwell on, or bring your problems to bed.
  • Associate your bed with sleep. It’s not a good idea to use your bed to watch TV, listen to the radio, for playtime or for work.
  • Make sure that your sleep environment is pleasant and relaxing. The bed should be comfortable, and your room should not be too hot or cold, or too bright.
  • The kids and dog have their own beds…they should use them!
  • Be careful about sleep aids — they can be habit-forming, interfere with the restful (REM) sleep your body needs to rejuvenate itself, and can interact poorly with other medications.

What you should know about Melatonin

Melatonin’s main job in the body is to regulate night and day cycles or sleep-wake cycles. Darkness causes the body to produce more Melatonin, which signals the body to prepare for sleep. Light decreases Melatonin production and signals the body to prepare for being awake. Some people who have trouble sleeping have low levels of Melatonin. It is thought that adding Melatonin from supplements might help them sleep.

Melatonin is likely safe for most adults when taken by mouth short-term or applied to the skin. But like any medicine or supplement, you should check with your physician before taking it. Melatonin can cause some side effects including headache, short-term feelings of depression, daytime sleepiness, dizziness, stomach cramps and irritability.

If you’re pregnant or breastfeeding, don’t use Melatonin. It also might interfere with ovulation, making it more difficult to become pregnant. Melatonin should not be used in most children — because of its effects on other hormones, it may interfere with development during adolescence. Additionally, Melatonin can raise blood pressure in people who are taking certain medications to control blood pressure. Melatonin also might increase blood sugar in people with diabetes, and can make symptoms of depression worse.

While found naturally in the body, Melatonin used as medicine is usually made synthetically in a laboratory. It is most commonly available in pill form, but also available in forms that can be placed in the cheek or under the tongue. This allows the Melatonin to be absorbed directly into the body.

People use Melatonin to adjust the body’s internal clock. It is used for jet lag, for adjusting sleep-wake cycles in people whose daily work schedule changes (shift-workers), and for helping blind people establish a day and night cycle. It is also used for the inability to fall asleep (insomnia); delayed sleep phase syndrome (DSPS); insomnia associated with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder (ADHD); insomnia due to certain high-blood pressure medications called beta-blockers; and sleep problems in children with developmental disorders including autism, cerebral palsy, and intellectual disabilities. It is also used as a sleep aid after discontinuing the use of benzodiazepine drugs and to reduce the side effects of stopping smoking.

# # #

Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!

Watch what I say AND what I do

Humans are naturally complex creatures, but we take our social and behavioral cues from those around us. We carefully watch the actions of our mentors, partners, peers, leaders, and employers to see what they’re doing and what they’re saying.

It’s going to be tougher for employers to “sell” health and wellness if they’re walking around smoking cigars, drinking colas and handing out chocolate at meetings. The battle of the bulge notwithstanding, we all have work to do when it comes to our personal healthcare, but setting priorities and working toward shared goals makes a big difference in getting others to notice and follow suit.

So often, it’s the little things that matter…and while it’s not all nutritional, that’s a good place to start since everyone loves to eat!  Replacing candy and soda vending choices with healthier options says you’re paying attention and taking an interest in your employees’ health. Fruit at meetings in place of cookies and bagels, water in lieu of soda, coffee and sweetened drinks, and salads or healthy platters instead of pizza and grinders at office meetings will be noticed.

Eliminating smoking at the workplace — indoors, on company grounds and in company vehicles — sends a strong message as well. We can’t legislate what our employees do on their own time and outside of the office or shop, but we can provide smoking-cessation information, articles, incentives and access to programs. Paying for those programs sends an even stronger message.

Employers can link wellness in their workplaces to national monthly health-awareness events and activities. For example, November is American Diabetes Month; Lung Cancer Awareness Month; Alzheimer’s disease awareness month; and The Great American Smokeout. Each, by itself, offers a multitude of creative interventions and educational opportunities. For example, Type 2 diabetes is linked to obesity, poor nutrition and lack of proper exercise.  Smoking tobacco products is the primary cause of lung cancer…and the Great American Smokeout, held annually on the third Thursday in November, has become an institutionalized national movement (for more information, visit The American Cancer Society at www.cancer.org). 

Encouraging employee collaboration when it comes to health and wellness makes great sense in terms of health improvements, teamwork and boosting morale. Encourage staff to meet on company time and come up with ideas for improving team and individual health. Create competitions, offer prizes and awards, sponsor team events, invite guest speakers and wellness experts, supplement fitness programs…the list of potential activities is endless. And when company leaders take an active role – and walk the talk – employees notice and participation increases.

# # #

If you’re not enjoying the benefits of a wellness program at your company, join CBIA Healthy Connections at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections.