Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban government continues to support smoking in many ways; tobacco companies try to increase their sales and people keep choosing to smoke as a lifestyle choice, and they’re taking up the habit when they’re younger and younger.

An article published on the Infomed website lists the health risks associated with smoking:

  • Cancer, in its many forms such as lung, mouth, throat (pharynx and larynx), oesophageal, stomach, pancreas, cervical, kidney and bladder cancer.
  • Respiratory disease such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
  • Heart disease such as coronary heart disease and heart attacks.
  • Cerebrovascular disease, such as brain aneurysms, circulatory problems and high blood pressure.

According to the 2015 Annual Health Report, these are also the most frequent and deadliest diseases in Cuba: heart disease, respiratory disease, high blood pressure and cancer. You don’t have to be a genius to understand that smoking is slowly killing us.

However, nothing changes.

“How can you smoke when our own father died of lung cancer? Aren’t you scared?” I asked my brother.  To my surprise, he took his time to answer: “Yes, when I think about it I am scared, but I’m so irresponsible.”

My brother smokes nearly 30 cigarettes a day, in spite of his fear and his family being dead against it.

A lot of people consider smoking an act of freedom, a personal decision that other people have to respect. It’s interesting to see that this same argument can be used to both justify it and to combat it. However, bearing in mind I’m one of the ones who want to eradicate smoking off of the face of the earth, I’m going to focus on the argument against.

Of course, choosing what you do in life is freedom, choosing what you most like or what best suits you. However, every personal decision comes with great responsibility. That’s why, it pained me to say to my brother that he’s not only being irresponsible with himself but with the lives of all those who surround him. Smoking isn’t a private act that doesn’t have consequences on other people; on the contrary.

According to the WHO, “smoking kills approximately 6 million people a year: 5 million are smokers and over 600,000 people are passive smokers who’ve been exposed to secondhand smoke.”

Therefore, you’re free to smoke if you don’t care about filling your lungs with tar and that it causes you respiratory diseases, or that this evil habit gives you some kind of cancer. But, you could be more aware of the fact that smoke from your cigarette affects everyone around you too. The “innocent” act of lighting up has its consequences: smoke from a cigarette contains over 4000 different components, many of which are considered toxic, carcinogens or potential carcinogens.

The tobacco industry needs a lot of paper to roll up each and every cigarette found in their packets. The paper and cellulose acetate they use in filters aren’t biodegradable, and therefore, take years to disappear and add to the amount of solid waste we have on the planet. Furthermore, just one cigarette butt is enough to contaminate up to 50 liters of water; fish, birds and any other animals that come into contact with this water can die.

Smoking produces pollution, which in turn contributes to climate change, and can cause forest fires (out of negligence). No-smoking regulations put into effect in enclosed areas don’t always fix the problem, as gas emissions and toxic air pollutants escape into the atmosphere beyond where the cigarette was originally lit up.

That’s why I have no other option but to think: we’ve lost all respect for life. Even us non-smokers are accomplices in this disaster when, for example, we allow adults to sell cigarettes to minors – initiating them early on in the world of smoking – and we justify it by saying that “every one of us has to struggle to get by” or “it’s up to the parents to stop them.” When we accept that they sell cigarettes to pregnant women knowing that it can directly affect and harm the fetus that is developing. It’s not just about having our doctors hands’ smelling bad whilst they check us over, or that cigarette smoke bothers us when we’re at the bakery, the shop or on the bus, etc.; but about the fact that it’s slowly killing all of us, humans and the planet.

We are accomplices because we don’t band together to demand the Government to adopt a smoking ban in Cuba.

Sure, at this time, if we were to hold a referendum, I don’t know who would take the majority. To smoke or not to smoke. That is the question.


Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

13 thoughts on “In Cuba, to Smoke or Not to Smoke…

  • July 3, 2016 at 9:19 am

    It’s always surprised me just how widespread smoking is in Cuba. Even in places where “No Smoking” is clearly marked, that is still largely ignored. I stayed in a hotel recently that was supposedly completely smoke-free, yet the whole place was like an opium den. I had no choice but to spend most of my time in town, as I could barely breathe at the hotel.

  • June 27, 2016 at 6:57 pm

    Dann, Correlation does not equal causation. That is a core premise of statistics. Lung cancer occurs in both smokers and non-smokers. The incidence of lung cancer among non0-smokers is on the rise despite a decrease in smoking, enacting smoking bans, etc. The increase in lung cancer among smokers occurred at the same time mother vehicle use and atmospheric nuclear testing increased, in time period following exposure to mustard chemical agent among soldier in WW I. The actual deaths for lung cancer among smokers all required long term exposure (30-40 years, and the death largely occurred in old age (see Doll and Hill’s Hospital and Doctor’s studies). The increased incidence in among smokers still results in a situation where lung cancer among smokers (while occurring at a higher rate than non-smokers) is a rare.

    Interestingly location with high smoking rates such as Greece and Japan have lower rates of lung cancer than nation like the United State and the United Kingdom. In addition the lung cancer rates are consistently higher in urban as opposed to rural areas regardless of smoking status.

    The expected dose-response relationship is not as strong as suggested in tobacco control literature. On second hand smoking studies that accept disease causation from primary smoking largely discount that relationship with second hand smoke (as demonstrated in all the references I have already provided).

    Consider for example, recent (2013) large prospective study (76,000 women) showed that while there is a strong association between smoking and lung cancer no such link has been demonstrated with second hand smoke. The direct quote is “the fact that passive smoking may not be strongly associated with lung cancer points to a need to find other risk factors for the disease [in nonsmokers].” (Peres, J, “No Clear Link Between Passive Smoking and Lung Cancer,”J Natl Cancer Inst, 2013.)

    I wonder just whom is misdirecting?

  • June 27, 2016 at 5:57 pm

    I guess you are just good at blowing smoke.

  • June 27, 2016 at 2:59 pm

    In no way does lung cancer “appear to be independent of smoking tobacco.” Smoking IS the # 1 cause of lung cancer, it does not merely ‘appear’ to be so. And even though “the rate of lung cancer has increased among non-smokers,” it is still nowhere near the rate of lung cancer among smokers.
    However, in Cuba the danger of second-hand smoke, is probably negligible since most homes and offices are not as insulated as they tend to be in colder climates or in parts of the world, e.g. in the southern parts of the USA, where the prevalent use of air conditioning makes people insulate their living spaces.
    But don’t let yourselves be fooled by Vinny Gracchus’s attempt at misdirection: Smoking cigarettes kills, but it kills primarily the smokers themselves – in Cuba as well as in the rest of the world.

  • June 27, 2016 at 2:41 pm

    Cuban cigarette packages already have “frightening warnings about the consequences” of smoking from the Ministry of Health (MinSap). Here are some examples from packages of “Hollywood”:
    “¿Quieres una vida saludable?,
    ¡No fumes!”

    “Tu aire y el mio es el mismo,

    Tus hijos están fumando también.”

    All medical doctors in Cuba also warn against smoking.

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