Heartwise Ministries tries to address the most common health problems facing the world. There are so many concerns about heart disease, cancer, poor nutrition, mental health, chronic pain, and obesity. I receive many questions relating to these topics. I also try to write about what others’ think are hot topics. Occasionally I step off on a limb and write what I think might be a hot topic. Recently cigarettes and smokers have made the news.

This is an important topic for more than one reason. In the past there has been great emphasis on tobacco and the health implications. I think most are aware of the risks associated with smoking including lung disease, heart attacks, and cancer. Most may not be aware that despite a concerted effort nearly one in five adults smoke and this level is higher in lower-income households. This might change soon, but will another problem be created?

Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar an Associated Press reporter has recently made the headlines with his article, “Law may leave smokers without insurance.” The Affordable Care Act will allow health insurers to charge some smokers a 50% higher premium beginning in January of 2014. This could cost a 55 year old nearly $4,250 a year. Workers on the job would be able to avoid the penalties by joining a smoking cessation program. Employer plans operate under different rules. Older smokers are penalized more than younger smokers. The available tax credits to help those in low income brackets, cannot be used to offset the cost of penalties for those who smoke.

Currently insurers are not allowed to charge more for those who are overweight, have chronic pain, or a bad heart, but smokers, watch out! Some states are legislating other health related rules. I think you can see where this is going.

I want people to have good health, but I also believe in individual rights as long as others are not being hurt. What about the health hazards that result from losing freedom?  Don’t get me wrong. I want people to quit smoking, but I want them to quit for the right reason. I want them to quit because they choose this path. Living in fear of losing another right is also not good. The stress part of the brain, the amygdala starts to fire stress chemicals. Fear is not good for the body either. When individual rights start are infringed on, where does this end? What happens to health when we lose the right to choose? Smoking penalties could be the tip of the iceberg.

I suggest we love and not judge.  Remember, loves casts out fear. Meet people where they are. Let’s develop new and better smoking cessation programs.  Let’s spend some money on helping people quit for the right reasons. Let’s again re-emphasize the dangers of smoking. Education needs to be expanded. Let’s find better ways to reach the youth. Let’s not have lack of individual freedom be the next health problem we are writing about.

20 minutes after a smoker quits the blood pressure and heart rate decrease and body temperature increases.

8 hours after a smoker quits the carbon monoxide levels decrease and the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood increases.

24 hours after a smoker quits the MI risk decreases.

48 hours after a smoker quits the nerve endings improve their function and taste improves.

2-3 months after a smoker quits, the chronic cough dissipates and the cilia move better. Lung function improves.

One year after quitting the risk of MI has been decreased by 50%