So much has been said about alcohol drinking and cigarette smoking. Even though both practices have been widely accepted since time immemorial, a bunch of laws were put in place to regulate the distribution, sale, and possession of alcoholic beverages and tobacco products. Similarly, a string of research has associated alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking to a number of medical conditions that are blamed for lost productivity and increased health care expenditures.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), excessive alcohol consumption is responsible for approximately 80,000 deaths each year in the U.S., making it the 3rd leading lifestyle-related cause of death in the nation. In 2006, there were over 1.2 million emergency room visits and 2.7 million physician office visits due to excessive drinking. That same year, excessive alcohol use cost the country an estimated $223.5 billion.
Excessive alcohol drinking includes heavy drinking, binge drinking, and any drinking by pregnant women or underage youth. Among its immediate health risks include unintentional injuries, risky sexual behaviors, violence, miscarriage and stillbirth among pregnant women, and alcohol poisoning. Over time, people with alcohol problems may develop chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular problems, liver diseases, certain cancer, or other gastrointestinal problems.
Although the minimum drinking age in the country is 21, there are currently 40 states that have set their own exceptions to allow underage drinking under certain circumstances. According to the non-profit organization ProCon, the 10 states that have no exceptions in their underage alcohol consumption laws are Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kentucky, Missouri, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia.
But despite the health risks associated with heavy and frequent alcohol consumption, some research indicates that light to moderate drinking helps reduce risk of developing heart disease, diabetes, and ischemic strokes. It may also possibly lower the person’s risk of gallstones.
With tobacco smoking, however, any benefit — if there’s any — is unlikely to get mentioned. Instead, we hear a couple of horror stories about the negative side effects of lighting up a cigar, regardless of how seldom or frequently you smoke. Even smokeless tobacco is viewed as a harmful alternative to traditional cigarettes.
CDC data showed tobacco smoking accounts for about 1 in 5 deaths annually in the U.S., or about 443,000 deaths per year. During 2001-2004, cigarette smoking costs the nation more than $193 billion — $97 billion in lost productivity and $96 billion in health care expenditures.
Studies show that smokers are at greater risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, respiratory problems, lung cancer, kidney cancer, and bladder cancer, to name a few. Similarly, people who are exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk of developing serious illnesses. Children who breathe in secondhand smoke are more likely to experience chronic cough, bronchitis, or asthma attacks. Approximately 49,000 smoking-related deaths are the result of secondhand smoke exposure.
If we are to get the opinion of health experts, chances are we’ll be advised to abstain from smoking and drinking to achieve a healthy wellbeing. But people aren’t the same, there will always be those who will find alcohol consumption safer than cigarette smoking, and vice-versa, despite what statistics say. Likewise, there are people who’ve been there and successfully quit.