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ADVANCE Perspective: Respiratory Views

Lights Out

Published November 6, 2015 7:25 AM by ADVANCE for Respiratory Care & Sleep Medicine

By Tamer Abouras

It’s hard to believe that until only fairly recently, indoor smoking was still alive and well. Even at restaurants, a host asking if you would prefer to sit in the smoking or non-smoking section was standard.

In recent years, however, awareness about the dangers of smoking has led to stricter legislation, self-imposed bans by companies and innumerable public service campaigns, all in the name of demonizing the harmful habit right out of existence. And as admirable as many of these initiatives are, smokers have nonetheless looked for ways around the pushback.

SEE ALSO: Helping Smokers Quit

Even with facts and research being churned out almost daily about the risks of developing chronic lung diseases and/or lung cancer as a result of regular smoking, quitting now seems to occupy a sort of procrastinator’s middle ground: more urgent for most than a diet, but definitely deemed less of a concern than something as detrimental as drug abuse.

And while there’s no question that these issues vary in terms of their immediate risk, the fact of the matter is that smoking is an irredeemably toxic activity, regardless of how well-informed about it a person happens to be.

All of which makes this week’s news appear more damning. According to Weill Cornell Medicine researchers, “A non-invasive and quick lung function test frequently used to evaluate whether or not a smoker is at risk for developing pulmonary disease is likely mislabeling a significant percentage of smokers as healthy.”

In a new study published in European Respiratory Journal, the research team found that “a more specialized but still non-invasive test can more accurately represent this risk” and that if said test is put into broader practice “ … doctors will be able to better predict who will develop chronic obstructive pulmonary disease … “

“We wanted to figure out an accurate way to detect who is most at risk, so that doctors can intervene earlier,” said Dr. Ronald Crystal, Chairman of the Department of Genetic Medicine and the Bruce Webster Professor of Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine. “We found that a more comprehensive test works better, and using it will ensure that doctors aren’t giving smokers a false sense of confidence that their lung function is normal.”

Although the study bore out the fact that these more specialized and particularized tests can help doctors pinpoint who is most at risk of developing chronic lung diseases such as COPD, here’s the bottom line: the risk is exponentially greater for smokers than non-smokers. And this study only addresses the probability of whether or not a doctor can predict your risk — getting reasonably good news is no guarantee of avoiding these conditions.

So why risk it at all? Nix the nicotine and you will be breathing a lot easier — literally and figuratively.

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