The well-known British actor Richard Briers died last month, at the age of 79, as a result of the smoker’s disease, emphysema . He was a very popular actor with a career spanning around 50 years, and had starred in many diverse roles, in TV, films and theatre. He was diagnosed with the lung condition emphysema in 2008, which eventually led to his death, although he had actually given up smoking about 10 years ago. Unfortunately the damage had already been done.
Briers estimated that he had smoked around half a million cigarettes in a 50-year smoking habit before quitting in 2003. He said that he regretted that he had left it until he was in his sixties to give it up. By the end, he was becoming very breathless and finding normal everyday activities, like climbing stairs, very difficult. The actor, best known as clean-living Tom in 1970s British TV series The Good Life, said he had left it “too late” to quit. Interviewed only a few weeks before his death, he said: “I’ve got emphysema, you see. I get very breathless, which is a pain in the backside. I haven’t even got the strength to garden any more. Five hundred thousand cigarettes, that’s the trouble. Trying to get upstairs – oh God, it’s ridiculous. The ciggies got me. I didn’t think it would go quite as badly as it has. It’s a bugger, but there it is. I used to love smoking.”
Emphysema is a very serious and often fatal disease of the lungs, most often occurring in smokers and people who have had long-term exposure to air pollution (although some types of it occur as a result of ageing – only however, in people of around 85 years, or older). It is a disease which does not come on suddenly, but very gradually. The air-sacs in the lungs, the alveoli, lose their shape (usually as a result of exposure to pollution) and can no longer hold oxygen, resulting in increased breathlessness and inability to move around. The toxins in the cigarette smoke become trapped in the alveoli and cause them to become inflamed. Chemicals (e.g. elastase) that are released as part of the inflammatory response can eventually cause the alveoli to disintegrate. People with this disease do not obtain enough oxygen and as a result suffer from a build-up of carbon dioxide in the bloodstream.
This is an irreversible degenerative condition, so it shows how important it is not to smoke, if you want to avoid suffering from it. There are treatments for this illness such as drugs, inhalers (bronchodilators) and supplemental oxygen, but all they can do is alleviate the symptoms somewhat, not cure the disease or reverse its effects. There is also lung volume reduction surgery, but the only known “cure” for emphysema is a complete lung transplant! (and few patients by this point are strong enough to survive the surgery)
So it is a great shame that Richard Briers did not quit smoking sooner as he may still be here today and have lived on for a good few years, and it’s a warning to everyone else. Quit while you still have a chance of preserving your health!
Picture courtesy of www.huffingtonpost.co.uk