[by Tamara Sellman RPSGT CCSH for Advanced Cardiovascular Sleep Disorders Center]
Looks like smoking is on the minds of the Alabama state legislation these days.
Last Thursday, the Alabama House Judiciary Committee approved a new bill generated by state Rep. Rolanda Hollis (D-Birmingham) for consideration by the full House. The bill would make it a crime to smoke in a vehicle with a minor (anybody under the age of 19). Fines levied for the violation could run upwards of $100 per incident.
Rep. Hollis reported in AL.com that she's received mostly positive feedback on the bill, which was inspired by a recent observation she made while riding in her husband's truck. "I couldn't hardly breathe and I told him there should be a law against it," she said.
Her concern is for the health of children as passengers, who don't have a choice when it comes to riding in a car with a smoker.
Her bill isn't the first state-wide effort to curb smoking in cars when children are present: eight states and Puerto Rico have all enacted similar restrictions
Meanwhile, state Rep. Chris Pringle (R-Mobile) has also introduced a bill to raise the minimum age for purchasing tobacco products to age 21 (it's currently set at age 19).
What's up with the legislative concerns over smoking, and how does it affect our sleep?
Yes, we know smoking is bad for us...
Most of the discussion about tobacco products rests on the research showing that nicotine is addictive.
In fact, the very first Surgeon General's Report on Smoking and Health did not come from C. Everett Coop, but from Alabamian Luther Terry* in 1965, who was appointed as Surgeon General by President Kennedy in 1961.
Terry quit smoking himself in 1963, then used his position to help educate American smokers on the risks of maintaining their habit. Terry declared smoking to be a health hazard that increased one's risk for heart disease, lung diseases, cancers, and other chronic illness.
His statement on smoking was the first of more than 20 that led to the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act, also in 1965, which forced cigarette companies to label their packs with warnings about the risks. It has been said that "no Alabamian was more influential in directing and improving public health during the twentieth century."
...but is smoking bad for sleep?
The fact is, the addictive nature of smoking is not its only problem. Smoking involves the inhalation of particulate matter into the lungs, which alters lung function (or, more simply put, breathing). Poor breathing while asleep is commonly associated with sleep disorders.
Smoking and sleep disorders
If you have problems breathing as you sleep, your chances of developing sleep-breathing disorders increase.
Poor sleep, caused by problems with breathing during sleep, also ups your chances of developing other chronic conditions.
Many smokers use bedtime as an excuse for smoking. "It helps me relax," they argue. However, smoking both relaxes and stimulates the brain and the body. At bedtime, this can lead to problems with staying asleep, even if falling asleep is not an issue.
As with all addictive substances, the moment the body metabolizes tobacco products, it sets off a chain of withdrawal symptoms that include the release of stress hormones which can greatly disrupt and fragment sleep.
Smoking, sleep apnea, and COPD
Smoking also leads to softened tissues in the upper airway (specifically, the epiglottis, that little flap that dangles at the back of your throat). When this tissue loses its tone, it falls backward into the throat, blocking breathing as you sleep, in a classic rendering of obstructive sleep apnea.
If you smoke, and your epiglottis is especially large or floppy, you are probably a candidate for sleep apnea, if you haven't been diagnosed already.
Sleep apnea is also a problem for people with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Those with COPD struggle to get enough oxygen during the day. The struggle worsens at night even when sleep apnea isn't present because their breathing function while asleep cannot sustain proper regulation. Throw in a case of sleep apnea and it's a wonder anyone with COPD can sleep at all.
And let's not forget that the chief cause of COPD is--you guessed it--smoking.
Smoking, brain health, and overall wellness
It's also important to know that the brain does a deep clean of toxins as we sleep. Smoking reduces our time spent sleeping and shortchanges us this important deep cleaning process. In addition, smoking, by its very nature, adds even more toxins to our systems!
Quit smoking and sleep better
It's never too late to quit smoking, but the longer you smoke, the harder it will be. If you want to sleep better, or just plain feel better, talk to your doctor about safe ways to kick the habit.
If you're a parent, be an example
Whether you're a smoker who's quit or a lifelong nonsmoker, your example can inspire your children to make smart choices when approached by others to try smoking.
This is extremely important, because nearly 90 percent of US cigarette smokers first tried smoking before the age of 18, according to research from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cited by CNN.
"[M]ake no mistake, this is an addiction of childhood," Deborah Arnott, chief executive of the nonprofit Action on Smoking and Health, told CNN.
Recent research supports this concern, extending it to the use of non-cigarette forms of tobacco (such as electronic cigarettes, tobacco waterpipes, and smokeless tobacco) being used by young people in the US.
A study published in the January 2, 2018 edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association reports that "Youths who use any tobacco product may be at greater risk of initiating cigarette smoking."
Even worse, research from Surrey University suggests that, on the average, smokers believe they won't have to face the health consequences of smoking until much later in life, a misperception that is both untrue and dangerous. The longer and the more they smoke, the harder it will become to quit.
Meanwhile, they will be creating the conditions for developing common, and often preventable, chronic health conditions, which as they age will become much harder to treat. And they won't be getting adequate, healthy sleep to help defend against any of it.
For these reasons, we support these current legislative efforts by Reps Hollis and Pringle to help curb smoking (and exposure to secondhand smoke). Please join us in supporting a healthier future for Alabama.