You could argue that everyone already knows the harmful effects of tobacco and yet – every day – both adults and CHILDREN start smoking, despite billboards sprawled across our landscape and despite lessons heard (but not learned) in school. If parents smoke, children will likely smoke. What kids see when they grow up is what is comfortable for them. You can’t teach your children to listen to what you say and then assume they will ignore what you do. They will emulate you.
And let’s not forget how peer pressure contributes to our children’s choices. If kids don’t have a strong sense of themselves and their individual right to think for themselves, they will succumb to stronger individuals who force them to “just try it.” We need to educate our children, but we also need to reinforce their sense of “self.”
We hear so much about what tobacco does to our lungs, but we may not care and we may not be aware of some of the other negative effects tobacco has on our bodies. According to the American Lung Association, “Smoking increases your risk of age-related macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness in adults over the age of 65.” Smoking also contributes to Type 2 Diabetes and affects poor circulation to legs and feet. When blood doesn’t flow to the feet, you risk gangrene and amputation.
Smoking narrows the blood vessels all over the body and could result in erectile dysfunction. Ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening reproductive complication, is more likely to occur in smokers. Because smokers lose bone density at a faster rate than do non-smokers, hip fractures become a risk for smokers. And smoking is a contributing factor for colorectal cancer. Smoking is also a factor in the development of rheumatoid arthritis.
Babies born with a condition called orofacial cleft (cleft lip/cleft palate) more than likely came from mothers who smoked. Even the process of getting pregnant can be difficult for some smokers, because smoking reduces fertility in women and can contribute to other problems during pregnancy.
Gum disease is another problem that affects smokers. Gum infections destroy the bone that supports your teeth and heavy smoking could result in tooth loss.
Like tobacco, alcohol is readily available and considered legal, though when you look at the effects alcohol has had on society – when it is abused – you can see the devastating effects of alcohol abuse. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIH), “Alcohol affects every organ in the drinker's body and can damage a developing fetus. Intoxication can impair brain function and motor skills; heavy use can increase risk of certain cancers, stroke, and liver disease. Alcoholism or alcohol dependence is a diagnosable disease characterized by a strong craving for alcohol, and/or continued use despite harm or personal injury. Alcohol abuse, which can lead to alcoholism, is a pattern of drinking that results in harm to one's health, interpersonal relationships, or ability to work.”
Every year, more children are finding their way into their parents’ or friends’ parents’ liquor cabinets and unconsciously preparing themselves for lives as alcoholics. In 2014, according to the NIH, 66% of 12th graders will have tried alcohol. 66%! How old is your child?
Wisdom has taken a back seat to knowledge. Our educational instructions aren’t working! Or maybe they are. We can’t ask our teachers to tell our children about the evils of alcohol if we’re getting drunk in front of our kids or if they see and smell the morning-after effects alcohol has on us. Children don’t care what we tell them. They act the way we act.
In my title, I ask which is better, but now I’m asking, which is more harmful? According to the American Lung Association, “Like tobacco smoke, marijuana smoke contains cancer-causing chemicals. There are 33 cancer-causing chemicals contained in marijuana. Marijuana smoke also deposits tar into the lungs. In fact, when equal amounts of marijuana and tobacco are smoked, marijuana deposits four times as much tar into the lungs (italics mine). This is because marijuana joints are un-filtered and often more deeply inhaled than cigarettes.”
Other health effects include impairment of short-term memory and motor coordination, slowed reaction time, moods, judgment, and decision-making. In some people marijuana causes severe anxiety and loss of touch with reality.
So which is better?
I think we can all agree that marijuana is better than meth, but maybe, instead of choosing our drug of choice, we need to think of alternate ways to cope with our challenges. Smokers and drinkers will tell you they know what they are doing is bad for them, but they can’t stop now, because – and they go on to list a multitude of circumstances occurring in their lives about which they cannot cope.
The reason they smoke or drink, they tell you, is because they are under too much stress to quit. But the ability – or inability – to cope with stress is not a reason – it’s an excuse. Stress never ends. It changes, but it never ends.
We are all stressed. We are all facing challenges. The problem is not stress itself, but our inability to cope with stress. We all need to learn how to cope with stress, and we need to learn how to cope with stress without the use of drugs or alcohol.
Do you drink or smoke in moderation? Do your children see you drinking or smoking? Do they know the difference between using alcohol or drugs responsibly and abusing alcohol or drugs? We teach by our actions, not by our words.