Press Releases

January 18, 2011

Tobacco a powerful drug

National Non-smoking week runs January 16 - 22

It sounds like some kind of all-purpose miracle drug that makes wounds heal faster, helps broken bones mend more quickly, reduces the severity of illnesses and results in better surgical outcomes.

In fact, 'it' is really quite simple.

Stopping smoking, even for a short period of time, when recuperating from any injury, illness or medical procedure will achieve all the above, WRHA Medical Officer of Health Dr. Sande Harlos, says.

"Smoking at all during any illness is like blocking the roadway to a fire at your house just as the fire trucks are trying to get there," Harlos says.

Harlos says this is because blood vessels all over the body contract every time a cigarette is smoked, which means the blood carrying oxygen, white blood cells and medication - which all help you heal - is not getting to the where it's needed, the way it should.

The result can be a longer time to recover or heal, a longer stay in hospital, or complications such as infections or poor mending of a fracture. It can increase the risk of getting respiratory illnesses (like influenza), and also increases the seriousness of those illnesses including a higher risk of pneumonia on top of a viral infection.

The best option for health is to stop smoking for good. But, if you are a smoker who's not ready to quit, you should consider temporarily stopping smoking during an illness, injury or when having surgery.

"The best recovery will occur when smoking is stopped," says Harlos.

Medications like nicotine replacement can help ease the withdrawal symptoms while stopping smoking temporarily, just like they do when quitting for the long-term.

A temporary stop should also occur when helping others in the family recover from illness, as second hand smoke has negative effects on recovery too. If you are not prepared to stop, make sure you always smoke outside.

But even smoking outside has some risks.

"Many people think that if they smoke outside they are not affecting others.  But second hand smoke is still the same toxic soup whether inside or outside and the wind doesn't always carry it away fast enough," Harlos said.

In fact, under certain conditions - depending on how close you may be standing next to someone, the number of smokers and the wind conditions - levels of second hand smoke in outdoor spaces can be as high as typical levels found when people smoke inside. And since even small amounts of second hand smoke affects health, smoking around others outside should not be considered safe.

"Even brief exposures can really have negative effects, especially on very young children, individuals with allergies, and people with existing medical conditions, like heart and lung conditions," Harlos adds.

Brief exposures to second hand smoke can cause irritation of the eyes and the respiratory tract, and even cause worsening of respiratory symptoms in people with underlying conditions such as asthma. Short term exposure can cause changes to the circulatory system that could lead to a heart attack.

So if you do smoke, always do so outside and remember to protect others by:

  • Always keeping a respectful distance from other people

  • Never smoke near a hospital or other health care facility, a school or on a playground or sports playing field

  • Don't smoke near building entrances, windows or air intakes

  • Don't smoke where children, older adults or people with health problems may be

This week is National Non-Smoking week so it's a great time to set a quit date and access support. Getting help to quit significantly increases your chances of success. For help to quit or to stay smoke free temporarily, contact the Smoker's Helpline at 1-877-513-5333 or visit

Click here for more information on tobacco reduction.

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