Jewish World Review Oct. 5, 2001 / 18 Tishrei, 5762

California leads nation in reduction of tobacco-related disease

By Robert A. Wascher, M.D., F.A.C.S. -- ONE of every three smokers will die prematurely from tobacco-related disease. To put this into its proper perspective, smoking is the number one cause of preventable disease in America, and kills over 450,000 people per year (more than the combined deaths from AIDS, alcohol, cocaine, heroin, murder, suicide, automobile accidents and fires).

An additional 50,000 nonsmokers will die each year from exposure to secondhand smoke. In 1990, the state of California launched its Tobacco Control Program, and has invested almost $1 billion in programs directed towards tobacco use prevention and intervention to date. As reported in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, the prevalence of smoking in California since 1993 has declined at nearly twice the rate of the remaining United States. It is estimated that there are now 1 million fewer smokers in the state than would be expected without the anti-tobacco program.

In 1998, 23% of Californians smoked. Currently, it is estimated that 18% of the state's population smokes. The reduction in youth (age 12-17 years) smoking rates is also striking, falling almost 50%, from 12.1% in 1995 to 6.9% in 1999. Although it typically takes 10-15 years for the effects of smoking reduction to be reflected in terms of observable reductions in disease rates, the state is already reporting significant declines in the rates of smoking-related cancers, as well as heart attacks, strokes, and low-weight births. Exposure to secondhand smoke in public places has been virtually eliminated in California, as almost all indoor workplaces are now smoke-free, including restaurants, bars and gaming clubs.

However, during the same period when these public health accomplishments were being noted, the advertising expenditures of tobacco companies in California appear to have increased. Smoking-related merchandise offered at reduced-or no-cost, sponsorship of sporting events (including 86% of rodeos) and "bar and club nights," and product placement in movies and magazines have all been undertaken to aggressively market tobacco products to the next generation of smokers. Despite being grossly outspent by the tobacco companies, however, the state's Tobacco Control Program is already racking up enviable progress in the fight against tobacco addiction, and the deadly diseases that tobacco products cause.

The British Journal of Sports Medicine recently reported on research being conducted at the Nottingham Trent University. Athletes and scientists have long known that 30 or more minutes of vigorous exercise leaves most people feeling less stressed and more content, in general. Although the reason for this effect has not been definitively identified, opium-like molecules in the brain, called endorphins, are suspected of playing a role.

This new study looked at the levels of another chemical, phenylethylamine, excreted into the urine of young men before and after 30 minutes of exercise on a treadmill. The study found a 77% increase in the amount of this chemical excreted from the blood into the urine following treadmill work-outs. Phenylethylamine is chemically related to amphetamines, and like amphetamines, this naturally occurring chemical is known to improve symptoms of depression and fatigue.

The chemical is also found in chocolate, and is thought to be highly active in the brains of people who describe themselves as recently having fallen in love! It is also interesting to note that study participants were asked to exercise for only 30 minutes, and at a relatively modest level of effort (70% of their calculated maximum heart rate). Less dangerous to the waistline than chocolate, and arguably less complicated than falling in love, aerobic exercise may provide similar emotional and mental health benefits as these other sources of phenylethylamine while also keeping your body happy and healthy, too!

JWR contributor Dr. Robert A. Wascher is a senior research fellow in molecular & surgical oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Dr. Robert A. Wascher