Doctor Says: Yes, Smokers Can Be Healthy, Too
The New Year has come and gone (more than three weeks ago now—where has time gone?), and with it, the making and breaking of New Year’s resolutions: to lose weight, to train for a marathon, to quit smoking. The latter, as always, was a particularly popular one: A poll found that this year, 34 percent of smokers planned to quit smoking at the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve; unfortunately, most them relapsed within the first eight days.
As hard as it is for us health addicts to swallow, the reality is that people smoke. Lots of people smoke, especially here in Philly. Question is, are they lost causes when it comes to healthy lifestyles? “There is a prevalent myth out there that smokers do not really care about their health,” says New York-based family-medicine doc Tamir Katz. “I found that with my patients that this simply wasn’t true.”
In fact, in his newly released book, A Smoker’s Guide to Health and Fitness, which Katz co-wrote with his sister and UPenn grad, Hila Katz, he boldly proclaims this: There’s more to you than your cigarette habit. I talked with Katz about why he wrote the book, how smokers can be healthy and still light up, and—gasp!—how he used to smoke two packs a day.
What inspired you to write the book?
I have several patients who smoke—many who do not desire to quit at this time. There is a prevalent myth out there that smokers do not really care about their health. I found that with my patients that this simply wasn’t true. Many of them exercise regularly, watch their diets and follow up with me regularly. Of course I always encourage them to quit, but I came to realize that for those people who do not wish to quit, there is no health and fitness book around to address their unique needs. At most, a health book will recommend smoking cessation, but that’s about it. In addition, there is an entire segment of the population who used to smoke and who have specific health issues due to the damage done from their former smoking. When I looked around, I realized that there really was no health guide dedicated to current and former smokers.
Did you ever smoke?
I used to smoke in high school and college—at times, as much as two packs a day—even though I was in great shape from participating sports and exercising. I never thought that because I smoke, I should eat poorly or refrain from exercising.
Do you think it’s unfair to say that smokers don’t care about their health?
Many people, especially in the health-care field, look down at smokers. “How can you smoke?! Don’t you know how bad it is for you?! What is WRONG with you?!” In a way, we set a double standard. People don’t generally go up to an overweight person at McDonald’s eating fries and talk down to them. Same with those who don’t exercise—no one will give them a nasty look and yell at them for not working out. With smokers, it’s different. It’s almost as if they have a problem with their personality or character if they smoke.
What are your quick tips for those who continue to smoke but want to be as healthy as possible?
Of course, quitting smoking or reducing the number of cigarettes you smoke is probably the single best way to improve your health. However, there are several other things a smoker can do to stay healthy:
- Eat a healthy diet, rich in fresh fruits and vegetables
- Engage in regular exercise
- Visit your doctor for check-ups and make sure you’ve had your flu shot (especially this year, as it’s been a pretty bad season)
- Manage your stress levels
We discuss these details in the book, as well as several other health-promoting measures.