Smoking + DNA = Mutations, and Maybe MS

I remember very clearly being in one of Mr. Doyle’s classes during my post-graduate certificate program and the discussion of ethics and public relations came up. It wasn’t a topic I was particularly interested in – we were close to graduation and I was nearly ready to sell my soul for a good job. Maybe not quite, but you know what I mean.

A few years later, I was working for a PR Firm in the city – those first few years were so formative. I worked at a municipality, then a school district, and landed at a small firm that specialized in motorsport racing, but my accounts were varied and included consumer products, charitable organizations, and race car drivers. If you’re a fan of motorsport in the United States, big tobacco companies still sponsor teams. In Canada, tobacco companies are barred from all advertising and sponsorships.  

About a year into my work at the firm, I was asked to help manage an event and the public relations for an arts foundation that was honoring grant winners. The entire event was being underwritten by a “big” tobacco company. You see, even though tobacco companies couldn’t advertise or sponsor events in Canada, they could underwrite events and then have their big executives attend and speak at these events. I agreed to work on this project, and looking back I regret it. My naiveite in life allowed me ignore the bad feeling in my gut – that by working this project, I would be supporting “big” tobacco. Hindsight is 20/20.

My father (and almost all the Arabic fathers of the 80s I knew growing up) was a smoker. I remember pleading with my dad to stop smoking. Eventually, he did – and I was and am so proud of him for accomplishing this difficult feat.

But here’s the thing. The damage was already done. Like for so many of us growing up in the 80s in the heyday of big-tobacco sales and engagements. And big tobacco hid the truth from the public for DECADES. By the time information about the detriment to health was made known publicly, it was already too late. People were hooked, and even the people who weren’t hooked couldn’t get away from that wretched smell.

My father’s generation, and my own generation, is paying with our health for the damage done to us by big tobacco.

We all (I hope) know that smoking causes a host of illnesses, in both smokers and non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke. But did you know that smoking is mutagenic? Mutagenic means that the thing (in this case, smoking and exposure to second-hand smoke) can change your DNA. Don’t believe me? Believe science.

And guess what? Research shows that smokers – and children exposed to parental second-hand smoke – are two times more likely than non-smokers or those not exposed to second-hand smoke to be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and that same contingent are more likely to be diagnosed with progressive MS.

When we asked my darling’s neurologist how we could help prevent our children from getting MS – the kinds of choices that we could make for them in childhood that would be the most impactful – she said to protect them from second-hand smoke and to encourage them to avoid smoking. It wasn’t diet, or exercise (even though this is important.) Smoking is a highly influential comorbidity. I recognize that this is a simplistic view on the world around me – but it’s no wonder why so many of us are being diagnosed with auto-immune diseases.

Since growing up a little more over the last 12 years, my commitment against the tobacco industry has solidified itself. Smoking is not allowed in our house. I will not take my children to visit with those who smoke in their presence – thankfully, there are very few relatives who smoke now, but still there are some. Lastly, we will never tolerate our children smoking or vaping, of any kind – ever.

If you’re reading this and you smoke, I encourage you to speak with your physician about a smoking cessation program. Doctors want to help people quit smoking, and while it’s difficult – it isn’t impossible.

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Wife, mother, writer, and caregiver. If you're here for support and caregiving life hacks, you've come to the right place.

4 thoughts on “Smoking + DNA = Mutations, and Maybe MS

  1. Without reading this, I would have never made the connection between smoking and MS nor would I have understood it. Thanks so much for sharing!


  2. My father smoked most of his life into his late 30’s and was diagnosed with progressive MS 5 years ago. His younger brother was also diagnosed with MS recently. Both smoked and grew up in a smoking family. I was not aware there was a link to tobacco, but I am not surprised due to how destructive smoking is to the body. Thanks for the intereing read.


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