"Get Fit to Dance!" by Bija Satterlee > WHY DO DANCERS SMOKE?

20 Jan 2005


IN A COMPETITIVE WORLD LIKE DANCING, people go to extreme lengths to improve themselves. The money spent on lessons, the dedication to long hours of practice, the intense focus and competitive mindset makes you think dancers leave no stone unturned to get ahead in their careers. Why then, would serious dancers take up a habit as self-destructive as smoking? From ballet dancers to ballroom dancers, you see them shivering outside in the rain, having a smoke. How does this compute?

Whenever you light a cigarette, the nicotine causes an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure, and the air passages in your lungs constrict, making it more difficult for you to breathe. From an athletic standpoint, it is like dancing with a 50 pound weight on your back. Within minutes of lighting up, carcinogens, and toxic gases, such as carbon monoxide, enter your bloodstream. This can cause chest pain and disturbance of your heart rhythm during physical activity or exercise, and it impairs your ability to perform.

We all have friends and loved ones who have the habit, and perhaps you smoke yourself. It’s such a frustrating subject because smoking is so intensely addictive. Current smokers hate to be reminded of it. They roll their eyes and say, “I KNOW, I KNOW...” and the discussion ends there. Because they DO know, and a large majority of them would like to quit.

Cigarette smoking remains the number one preventable cause of death in the Western world. The litany of negative effects caused by smoking are well documented, and yet every day millions of young people (and dancers) start smoking for the first time.

• Reduced athletic performance. Need we say more...
• Increased risk of illness. Studies show that smokers get more colds, flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia than nonsmokers.
• Greater risk of injury and slower healing time. Smoking affects the body's ability to produce collagen, so common dance injuries, such as damage to tendons and ligaments, heal more slowly in smokers than nonsmokers.
• Expensive. Smoking averages $1800. / year. You could buy a new tail suit every year with that money!
• Bad breath. Decidedly unglamorous.
• Bad-smelling clothes and hair. Hard to get the smell out, but since smoke diminishes your sense of taste and smell, you may not notice it yourself.
• Premature Facial Wrinkling Reduced blood flow to the skin and restricted collagen production. (We can’t have this!)
• Risk factor for Erectile Dysfunction (This either!)

SMOKERS HAVE SIGNIFICANTLY ELEVATED RISKS of heart attack, stroke and cancer of many types including the throat, mouth, esophagus and lungs; kidneys, pancreas, stomach and bladder. Those who smoke the most have the highest risk of death and disease. Furthermore, the younger a person is when they start smoking, the more dramatic their chances of getting life-threatening diseases. A study of people with lung cancer found that those who started smoking before age 15 had TWICE as many cell mutations as those who started after age 20. And teens who smoked had impaired memory function.

SECONDHAND SMOKE is a cause of disease for those who are around it. Children of smokers are more likely to have asthma, allergies, and be prone to bronchitis and other respiratory illnesses.

“In California they’ve passed a law, so now there’s no smoking in bars, and soon no eating and no talking!”
~ Eddie Izzard, comedian

Some people have the misconception that cigars are not as dangerous as cigarettes. This is just false. A cigar has as much nicotine as a whole pack of cigarettes, and the leaves they are rolled in are cured for over a year in chemicals that are released during smoking. Secondhand smoke from cigars contains many of the same poisons (toxins) and cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) as cigarette smoke but in higher concentrations.

Some of the toxins or carcinogens in cigar smoke include:
• carbon monoxide
• nicotine
• hydrogen cyanide
• ammonia
• arsenic

YIKES!!!! People KNOW all this, and still hold tightly to the habit. I ask again, Why would dancers put their careers at risk, smell up their beautiful clothes and hair, stain their teeth and fingers, impair their athletic ability, and invite disease into their lives?

I asked some dancers why they smoke. Here are their responses:
• “I smoke very occasionally, when I’m around others who smoke. I can’t help myself, it’s like I have to do something with my hands.”
• “I know it’s bad. I’ll quit some day. Just not right now.”
• “It helps me keep my weight down. Instead of eating, I smoke.”
• “In (my home country) everyone smokes from the time we’re teens. Only here in the U.S. do people seem to care about it.”
• “I quit several times but being around other people who smoke makes it hard not to. It’s a social thing.”

The addictive quality of tobacco is equal to that of heroin; it is almost impossible NOT to get addicted. Therefore, quitting is a major undertaking.

While many of the effects of smoking are long-term, others are reversible. The ‘good news’ is smokers who quit before age 30 avoid more than 90 percent of the risks of smoking! Quit now and you will reduce your risk of heart attack, cancer and stroke, as well as add years to your life! As you smoke, your pulmonary function is rapidly declining. Once you stop, the rate of decline slows down, giving you a second chance with your health. Quitting at any age is advisable, as the risk of disease becomes less once you quit.

Many methods exist for stopping smoking. The most important thing is that you BELIEVE you can do it! An addiction can’t be broken in half an hour. Nicotine addiction is only thought to be about 10% of the battle. The rest is psychological and behavioral. Combined therapies including the patch, nicotine gum, and group counseling work better together than individual methods alone. Meanwhile, you need to learn to think like a nonsmoker, and to find other ways to socialize, relax, maintain your weight, and manage stress.

Making your own list of reasons to quit can help you stay the course in trying times. Keep adding to the list every day. List the freedoms you will enjoy once you overcome your addiction. Post it where you see it every day. Take it very seriously. Every day you continue to smoke could be a day of recovery. Every pack adds up, and the longer you smoke, the more damage you do to your body.

Set a date. Get support. Just decide to do it. Help your friends, help yourself, encourage smokers around you to kick the habit, and discourage young people from starting. Two immediate rewards are easier breathing and more money... things every dancer can use!

Here are some web sites with programs and information about quitting smoking and staying smoke free. Check them out and at least get started with this very important step in your life. And good luck!

To discuss this or other fitness concens, email me at bija@bodiesbybija.com

Bija Satterlee