Kick the habit

We live in a free society and I wouldn’t want it any other way. We as individuals have the right to smoke and the right to enjoy a drink. Interestingly, if cigarettes and alcohol were introduced on the market today, it’s highly unlikely they would pass FDA approval.

Tobacco and ethanol have been a long-standing part of our and many societies. It’s no wonder that many people enjoy each, and have become addicted to each, be it proper addiction or habitual addiction.

But what is the public opinion on those receiving a government cheque, and use it to fulfill their need for each? More than a few of welfare and disability recipients smoke and/or drink. And while people are free to make their own choices, it can get frustrating when many of these people continue to make these choices in the face of their medical issues. Their earnings are meager, and the decision of spending their money on cigarettes or alcohol versus medications often arises. Unfortunately, it’s the medications that usually lose out.

One case stands out, involving a woman in her 50s who came to the Emergency Department for chest pains and ended up having a serious heart attack in the department. We resuscitated her for over 2 hours before stabilizing her enough to have Interventional Cardiology step in. The end result was positive; she spent a few days in the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit in a hypothermic coma, and eventually recovered and was discharged. When she was next seen, after her very near brush with death (though in theory she had been dead a few times until she was revived), she was still puffing away at her cigarettes as if nothing had happened. Her main complaint? She was upset that her chest hurt (from the hours of compressions keeping her alive).

When someone takes up a habit like smoking or drinking, they may or may not have started with the full understanding of the health risks involved. But I find it hard to believe that they would remain oblivious to such risks over time. Thus, once a life-threatening event occurs, it would be a great wake-up call to kick the habit. But this doesn’t always happen. And smoking, for example, continues. Most likely, they will wind up back in the ER again.

Healthcare dollars are now being spent to treat someone who made the choice not to treat them self. If someone comes in, such as in the example given, and are successfully resuscitated, they are given a second chance. But what if they don’t take the opportunity to make a healthy choice for their better? Should the public be liable to keep funding their continued medical problems when an obvious risk-reducing solution was ignored?

Doctors take an oath to do no harm and pledge a life to help humanity. But doesn’t humanity have a responsibility for their own individual health? Our system is struggling to stay afloat, and healthcare dollars are becoming scarce. We need not continue to spend money over and over again on issues that should be avoided with smart decisions.

This opens the next debate: should those individuals receiving government aid be required to attend programs aimed at kicking their habits? Should their dole be reduced by the amount used to purchase cigarettes or alcohol? But by doing so would most likely worsen the situation, as many would still choose to smoke over buying other necessities.

I unfortunately do not have the answer. And I’m not necessarily in support of the government imposing restrictions to freedoms. But I feel too many people are taking advantage of a healthcare system that they themselves are not contributing to, and if they want to help do their part, it starts with making that smart decision to kick the habit, ideally now, or at the minimum, following a scare. Take advantage of that second chance. There’s no guarantee of a third.

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