Why Divers Should Quit Smoking
Written by Jorge Mezcua
All those who have smoked and tried to quit smoking several times have seen how easy it is to fail in this task. Four, five and even 10 times many have tried, with increasingly painful relapsings. And even some have quit for more than a year without to fall back to smoking again.
Smokers are expert procrastinators, very skilled in the art of excuses. "As soon as I (insert here a close moment in time but not too defined) I quit smoking." People have quit drugs considered more addictive like cocaine or heroin, but are unable to quit smoking. Even smokers with cardiovascular diseases and very advanced lung cancers have been unable to quit smoking and that has led them to their death.
To try to convince you that if you keep smoking you will die of cancer in a few years I think is a poor strategy to fight against and addictive substance as powerful as nicotine. If it doesn't kill me today I will quit tomorrow, probably.
If you're reading this post you are surely a diver and know the blessed martyrdom involved in scuba diving (expensive and time consuming trips, early mornings, money invested in scuba gear, heavy equipment hauling, while you take away time from your family and friends) to merge with the blue. Many of us, if unable to go diving and keep in contact with the sea, would be another person. If you smoke and dive regularly I will explain why smoking is seriously endangering your life and even your diving buddy every time you get into the sea. If you keep smoking and diving is sure cigarettes will win the battle and you may have to quit diving.
Why smoking is more harmful to divers?
You've probably seen dozens of divers who smoke and have never had any problems. I used to smoke three minutes before getting the regulator in my mouth and I have dived with divers that smoked more than one pack a day and nothing ever happened to them. And they even use up less air than a nonsmoker! What you've probably never done is dive with a smoker who suffered decompression sickness, possibly because they are not able to dive again.
DAN, an organization dedicated to the study of the safety and health of divers, spent years conducting an analysis of the impact of smoking in divers. One of the most striking aspects was to discover how smoking affects divers who had experienced decompression sickness. In a study initiated in 2007 with the participation of over 4,000 smoking divers who have suffered from this syndrome, they found that the neurological damage were more severe among smokers, especially among hard smokers of more than 20 cigarettes a day. Smoking does not directly cause decompression disease, but if you suffer it and smoke, chances are you may have more serious damage.
Why is it more severe in smokers? Smoking damages the endothelium, a thin layer of cells in the inner zone of all blood vessels, including the heart, and we weaken it by smoking, leading to diseases such as atherosclerosis, hypertension, sepsis or thrombosis. Damaging the endothelium blocks our arterioles and, if we suffer decompression sickness, the bubbles that travel through our circulatory system can cause strokes in different areas, including the brain. No need to wait for a cancer that to get irreversible damage.
One of the most important aspects of divers safety and repeated ad nauseam in the diving courses is to prevent lung overexpansion. While ascending during a dive, pressure is gradually reduced and the air in the lungs grows in volume. If you do not expel the air it will expand to reach greater volume than the lungs, breaking them, and will cause serious damage. That's something all those divers who smoke and uses little air certainly know. What they probably does not know is that their bronchial tubes have cilia, little protuberances responsible for preventing fluid and foreign particles from entering the lungs. The absence of this cilia is causes mucus to be generated and this mucus is what causes the typical smoker's morning cough. I do know for sure, smoking diver, that you're killing these tiny hair-like organelles, allowing the mucosa to enter your lungs and trap residual air blocking the way out of your lungs. Do you follow me? More tobacco = less cilia = more mucosa = more residual air = more likely to develop lung overexpansion, one of the most serious diving accidents anyone that can suffer.
Now let's talk about the production of CO2 for a moment. When we do aerobic physical activity we increase the production of CO2, both smokers and nonsmokers alike. However, the smoker may develop, of course unknowingly, hypercapnia or increased partial pressure of carbon dioxide (PaCO2) and in short, have a greater amount of carbon dioxide in the blood. What is the problem of suffering hypercapnia for divers? In addition to a need for increased effort for breathing (wasting more air by making more effort), CO2 production will increase as you go deeper. Hypercapnia symptoms include headaches, confusion, lethargy, panic, dizziness and decreased reaction time, much like the effects of narcosis, one of the most dangerous issues when we dive. You can get intoxicated by your own production of CO2 and also have more chances to suffer it when diving.
No, smoking is not going to kill you by cancer overnight. But if you dive, yes, it can seriously complicate a dive and you can have problems offering your help to your buddy. Diving involves gas exchange under stress and pressure, severely damaging the organs responsible for making this exchange is a bad idea.
These are a few reasons to quit smoking, perhaps the most important for divers, but there are many more. So Mr. Diver, if you want to quit smoking, think about the damage it can cause in the short term, excuses can serve those who live only on the surface, not for you.