Smoking Lecture at GCC

By Michael J. ARVIZU

Glendale Community College presented the first in a series of humanity and social science lectures on Feb. 28. Associate professor of biology Joseph Beeman presented “The Effects of Tobacco, Marijuana and Hookah on the Human Body” to a standing-room only crowd.

Beeman began his lecture by revealing that over 7,000 chemicals exist in cigarettes, including acetone and arsenic, a compound used in some pesticides. Chronic smokers are at risk of experiencing a number of maladies including heart and lung disease, stroke, erectile dysfunction and emphysema, to name a few.

For some worst-case emphysema patients, Beeman said, the act of simply walking out of a classroom is the equivalent of running a full marathon.

Hookah smokers inhale more smoke because the tobacco used in the water pipe is wet. And since hookahs are used as part of social gatherings, smokers will tend to use it upward of 30 to 45 minutes on average, said Beeman, compared to roughly five minutes for a cigarette.

Tobacco use is the No. 1 preventable risk factor for stroke and diseases of the heart and lungs.

“There is damage occurring to the DNA, probably one of the causes of lung cancer,” Beeman said. “The more cigarettes you smoke, the greater the amount of potential damage occurring to the DNA.”

Beeman’s own father died at 71 of lung cancer. Even though he quit cold turkey in his 40s, the seeds of cancer were already in his body by then, said Beeman.

“He gave up a little too late,” he said.

To emphasize how harmful cigarette smoking can be to the lungs, Beeman displayed two images side by side of a pair of human lungs. One image depicted a healthy set of lungs – smooth, glossy and pink. The other depicted lungs that had been subjected to years of cigarette smoking – lungs covered in lesions, and discolored and blackened. The second image elicited groans of disgust from the audience.

“It’s scary,” said GCC counselor and professor Rosette Aghekian. “I just wish every person who smokes and uses marijuana would have access to this information; people that I dearly love smoke. My friends that smoke look 20 years older.”

Smoking is a difficult habit to drop, Beeman said, because of nicotine’s tendency to bind to the pleasure receptors of the brain.

GCC student Tatevik Mirzayan, said she will talk to her husband about what she learned at the lecture in the hopes of convincing him to quit smoking.

“I wish he was here,” she said. “I have been telling him don’t smoke, but they’re addicted. It’s not easy for them to quit very easily. I am going to give him the same lecture.”

For marijuana smokers, the negative effects on the human body increase.

Marijuana contains the aptly named active ingredient Delta 9 Tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC. Like nicotine, it binds to the pleasure centers of the brain, causing addiction and debilitating withdrawal symptoms.

Working memory is affected, including areas of the brain responsible for visual association. Users can experience depression and mania. A single joint contains four times more tar than a cigarette, and three or four joints cause damage equivalent to five cigarettes.

Hardly any studies exist on marijuana’s effectiveness as a medicine, Beeman said. And any studies that have been conducted only focus on THC and not the smoked form. A THC dose needed for pain relief delivered through the smoked form of marijuana is difficult to precisely measure. And the window between such a dose for pain relief and one that will produce psychic effects on a patient is very narrow, so it is rarely used in a professional medical setting to treat patients with multiple sclerosis, for example.

“And yet that’s all they’re talking about: We’re going to legalize marijuana so we can smoke it,” said Beeman. “There are a lot of different factors that play in that make it hard to get controlled doses of smoked forms of marijuana.”

More studies have been conducted using habitual users than actual patients, which makes it unclear if people with debilitating conditions would ultimately benefit, Beeman said.

“Politically, it’s very acceptable to smoke marijuana right now,” Beeman said. “I’m afraid, because we don’t have the research, that over time we’re going to find out it’s just as bad as cigarettes – maybe worse.”

Beeman was asked to present his talk by lecture series coordinator and GCC Psychology Department chair Jessica Gillooly, on the basis of ongoing discussions on whether or not to make GCC a smoke-free campus.

With this lecture, Beeman hopes to educate people so they are not misinformed, especially when it comes to information about marijuana and hookah.

“Not enough of the facts are coming out, so I decided to do this talk to get some of those facts out,” Beeman said.