Expert Warns About That Other Addictive Substance: Tobacco

Newtown Bee By Larissa Lytwyn


Dr Peter M. Glassman Parent Connection meeting. – Bee Photo, Lytwyn


Dr Peter M. Glassman of Sandy Hook, a seasoned anesthesiologist, neurologist, and addiction specialist, emphasized the devastating physical effects of substance abuse during the Newtown Parent Connection forum on March 16.

In a departure from earlier forums that focused largely on the abuse of alcohol and hard drugs, Dr Glassman also spoke extensively about the detrimental effects of tobacco.

Back in 1987, Dr Glassman met then-US Surgeon General Dr C. Everett Koop.

“Dr Koop told me that the key in curbing substance abuse was through prevention education,” said Dr Glassman. “The preventative message should be delivered to students in grades 4 through 8. The thinking was that later, as teenagers, the students would remember learning how destructive tobacco and other substances were to one’s health and thus choose not to use them.”

In addition to scores of parents, attendees at the March 16 forum included several elementary and middle school-aged students.

Dr Glassman talked about the irony behind what tobacco is – a weed. “Usually, we hate weeds,” he said. “We try to get rid of them!”

Burning leafy tobacco greens produces 52 different types of carcinogens. Further, tobacco farmers often use weed killer, insecticides, and antifungal, antiviral substances to protect their crops. These substances contain formaldehyde, ammonia, and other damaging chemicals that remain in the tobacco even after it is wrapped in paper and packaged into cigarettes. These additional chemicals increase the number of carcinogens to 64.

“So smoking a cigarette is even more damaging than burning straight tobacco leaves,” said Dr Glassman.

Next, he described what “smoke” was – pollution.

“What smokers take into their lungs is the same stuff that we call pollution in our environment,” he said, underscoring his point with slides of smog-wrapped cityscapes.

Illustrating his message through the use of slides depicting healthy and smoke-damaged lungs, livers, and brains, as well as plastic models of various body parts, Dr Glassman spoke extensively about the mind-numbing physical damage smoke causes to the lungs, larynx, mouth, nose, heart, and brain.

The damage, he said, is irreversible.

Dr Glassman next showed non-US cigarette advertisements and packages. “In the US, we know that the statement, ‘May cause cancer,’ is included on cigarette packaging and advertisements,” he said. “But first of all, these is no ‘may.’ Smoking will cause cancer.”

Slides of Canadian and European ads graphically detailed the potential harm of cigarette smoking by appealing largely to the consequences of second-hand smoke on loved ones.

It is documented that second-hand cigarette smoke possesses lung-damaging consequences nearly as severe as that of direct smoke inhalation.

“It’s interesting how so many of us have carbon monoxide detectors in our homes while those living with smokers are breathing in these chemicals every single day,” said Dr Glassman.

Further, smoking causes the potential of pregnant women to bear mentally undeveloped, prematurely sized infants.

The non-US advertisements were filled with images of vulnerable fetuses and innocent-faced children with words describing the lethal effects of secondhand smoke.

“This kind of advertising has been blocked by lobbyists in the US,” said Dr Glassman grimly.

It is estimated, he continued, that smoking causes 85 percent of lung cancer, and that 80 percent of those afflicted with the disease will die in just two to three years.

“Now, a lot of people know how horrible smoking is,” said Dr Glassman. “But they can’t stop because of the fact that they are chemically addicted through cigarettes’ nicotine.”

The understanding of addiction is a relatively new concept. Up until 1965, such behavior was described as “deliberate misconduct.”

However, it is now known, for example, that many alcoholics are genetically predisposed to alcoholism – explaining why addiction often seems to run in families.

The process of quitting smoking or other kinds of substance abuse is “very difficult” due to the chemically dependent component of addiction, Dr Glassman explained. After a while, an addict’s cells actually physically crave the damaging substance, be it alcohol, cocaine, or tobacco. Addiction also profoundly affects psychology.

Society also glamorizes alcohol and drugs, marketing alcoholic beverages with names like “Blue Hawaiian,” “Pina Colada,” and “Ecstasy.”

Many addicts, Dr Glassman noted, liken their need for alcohol, smoking, or drugs to their body’s need for food and water.

“Imagine going three days without any food, or three days without any water,” said Dr Glassman. “Imagine how consuming your thoughts of food or water would be. That’s what it’s like for addicts getting off of cigarettes, or alcohol, or other kind of drugs.”

In addition to cigarette smoking, Dr Glassman talked about the nearly identically damaging effects of marijuana.

“There is currently a bill in the Connecticut legislature to permit the use of marijuana for medicinal uses,” said Dr Glassman. The interest in such use stems from marijuana’s antihistaminic properties, useful in the treatment of such diseases as glaucoma.

However, said Dr Glassman, there are more than 30 readily available, FDA-approved medicines already highly capable of treating such illnesses – without such side effects as short-term memory loss, decreased cognitive functioning, lung damage, compromised immune response, and a decrease in reproductive capacity.

Dr Glassman also warned families about inhalants

Finally, Dr Glassman touched on the family dynamics of addiction. An Adult Child of an Addict (ACOA) is often distrustful, he said, and often incurs deep-seating feelings of shame or resentment.

Using The Simpsons cartoon as a template, Dr Glassman described the different roles families with an addict often adopt. The enabler ( The Simpsons’ Marge) strives to smooth over familial discord by ensuring that the often-ornery addict (beer-chugging Homer) is content, perhaps, even making sure that the addict’s substance of choice is readily available. The “lost child” hides, running to escape the problems. Blame for familial upheaval is often placed on the trouble-making “scapegoat” (Bart) while the “hero” (Lisa) becomes an overachiever, subconsciously believing that if he or she is, for example, achieving straight-A’s, there can’t possibly be a problem at home! The “mascot” is coddled, protected from the web of dysfunction surrounding him or her.

Denial, Dr Glassman warned, is a key component of enabling addiction.

Dr Glassman has been involved with the treatment and research in addiction medicine for the past 15 years. He is one of 59 members of the American Society of Addiction Medicine in Connecticut and serves on the volunteer staff of MCCA (Mid-Central Connecticut Councils on Alcoholism and drug abuse) as well as serving on its board of directors. Dr Glassman is also a senior associate medical director in the Central Nervous System Division of the Department of General Medicine at Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals.

For more information on addiction and substance abuse, visit the Newtown Parent Connection website at www.newtownparentconnection.org. Used with permission Copyright © 1999-2004 Bee Publishing Company

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Founder & Executive Director

Dorrie Carolan and her husband raised their four children in Newtown, CT. Starting the Parent Connection was never part of her plan.

The issue of substance abuse became personal when her eldest son, Brian, became addicted and subsequently died at age 28 of a prescription drug overdose. Through the struggles caused by Brian's addiction, Dorrie became aware that this was an issue that affected many others in the community. She founded the Parent Connection in 1993 in an attempt to network with other concerned Newtown parents. It was the impetus behind many policy changes in town and within the schools.

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