Our health up in smoke
Despite the onslaught of graphic anti-smoking campaigns, and even in the wake of the latest celebrity emphysema speculation, millions of smokers are still lighting up.
What is emphysema?
Emphysema is generally caused by cigarette smoking or, in some cases, long-term exposure to certain industrial pollutants or dust. Emphysema is a type of lung disease that is most obviously characterised by a shortness of breath.
After being repeatedly exposed to these chemical irritants, the alveoli (air sacs) and bronchioles (which are the main tubes leading to the lungs), lose their elasticity. The end result is that the movement of oxygen from the air to the blood becomes increasingly difficult.
To top it all off, these damaged airways do not regenerate, meaning once the damage is done there is no turning back. And to make matters even worse, there is no cure.
Symptoms include: breathlessness; chest infections; coughing; fatigue; expansion of the ribcage, due to the expansion of the lungs; and a blue tinge to the skin caused by a lack of oxygen.
Although there is no cure for this often debilitating condition, there are things that can be done to try and prevent further damage and at the top of the to-do list is to stop smoking.
This has proven difficult for the latest celebrity to face an emphysema-related health scare. Amy Winehouse's father expressed concern last week that the 'Rehab' singer might develop the disease if she didn't kick the habit. Despite stern warnings from doctors, just moments after leaving hospital the 24-year-old singer was seen lighting up a cigarette.
Amy collapsed at her North London home last week and was taken to a London hospital for tests. Her father, Mitch, later revealed, "With smoking crack cocaine and the cigarettes her lungs are all gunked up. The doctors have told her if she goes back to smoking drugs it won't just ruin her voice, it will kill her."
Mitch Winehouse's fears have since been downplayed by the singer's US publicist, who told the Associated Press: "she is not diagnosed with full-blown emphysema, but instead has early signs of what could lead to emphysema."
Dr Norman Edelman, who is the chief medical officer at the America Lung Association, says that while there is no cure for emphysema, its progression can be stopped if the sufferer is willing to quit smoking. He says, "If [Amy] stopped those things [smoking drugs and cigarettes], her decline in lung function would be at the rate of a normal person."