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Smoking and UC


I am 43 years old, male, white. I was diagnosed with UC in 1996. I worked in the cruise industry for 14 years and now live in Vancouver, Canada. I play golf at every opportunity.

My Symptoms:

I currently have my symptoms under control but I do experience flare-ups from time to time. Generally a flare-up goes through stages. It begins with some gas, stomach rumbling and a little abdominal pain/discomfort. After a few days I begin to see mucus in my stools (3-5/day). after a few more days the mucus increases and bleeding begins. The pain and discomfort increase due to bloating/gas. Stools then become very loose and there is more blood (5-7/day). Within a week I am passing only bloody liquid and the pain and bloating have increased again (10 or more movements/day). It generally takes 3-4 weeks for the symptoms to abate once I have things under control.

My Story:

I am 43. I was diagnosed with UC in 1996. They weren’t exactly sure what it was at first but after 6 months or so they finally determined it was UC. I had been seeing a doctor at the Mariner’s Medical Clinic (I was working on a cruise ship at the time) and then I saw a GI specialist.

What I’m going to tell you next may sound a bit strange to you but it is all true and once you’ve read this I’m going to ask you to check something out on-line and then please get back to me and tell me what you think.

I used to smoke. I smoked from the age of 12 or so and then in 1986 I quit for a year. I also quit drinking that year but I decided that I’d quit smoking until the end of the year and then take it up again in 1987, only to quit again the following year and start again the next year… in other words I’d smoke on odd numbered years and quit during even numbered years and then I’d quit for good in 2000. (Why I chose to do this is a long story and really has little bearing on anything else I’m telling you so I’ll just say “yes, that was a silly thing to do”.)

As I told you, in 1996 I was diagnosed with UC. I experienced bleeding, weight loss and anemia. I didn’t know what it was and I actually let it go for 6 months before I told anyone. (again rather silly of me…) When I finally saw a doctor she asked how long I’d had these symptoms and when I told her 6 months she was shocked. I had lost a fair bit of weight and I was in pretty rough shape by the time I sought any medical attention. What happened next is something I’m sure you can probably relate to… I was put on pills, lots of pills. I was on Sulfsalazine, Asacol, all sorts of different 5-ASA medications and then the worst of the bunch, Prednisone. They had me up to 120 mg a day at one point. When the doctor gave me the pills he also gave me a photocopied sheet, two-sided in teeny-tiny print with all of the negative side effects of steroids. I was told that eventually I’d have to wean myself off of them and it took a long time. The truth is, they did no good (and a lot of bad – moon face, acne, and those were just the visible side-effects) and one day I just stopped taking them.

The strange thing is that one day I noticed I had begun to get better and within a month I was pretty much better. This was 1997 and and from February on I was more or less symptom free apart from the odd small flare-up. I was new to the whole thing so of course I thought I had “beaten” it or something. Wrong. I got sick again, this time worse than the last and I was taken away from work and put in a hospital. I had IV’s stuck in my arm as I had once again lost a lot of weight and electrolytes. They began putting me on medicines again and I eventually pulled the needle out of my arm one day and sneaked out of the hospital. I was sick that entire year and again I took the medications that they offered to no avail. The good news is that in 1999 I got better.

It was at this point that I had a thought… and perhaps you’re having the same thought now yourself. I had spent a lot of time thinking about what foods I was eating or what my stress level was or into what environment I was putting myself or anything I could think of that might be the trigger… when it occurred to me that I was sick during the years that I did not smoke. I thought about it some more because it sounded a little far fetched but nothing else added up the way this did. When I smoked I was fine and when I didn’t smoke I was sick. That’s it… that simple.

I went to see my original doctor and I asked him about this and to make a long story short his respone was this, “Well I am aware of studies that suggest there is a link between nicotine and the bowels and some people have suggested that smoking may have a beneficial effect on UC patients.” I stared him for a few seconds and then asked him why he’d never mentioned this before. He said, “Bruce, how would it look if a doctor told his patient to smoke?” I asked him, “How would it look if a doctor didn’t tell his patient to smoke, knowing it may benefit the patient and the patient died?” His response… “You’ve got a point there…”

My doctor told me to smoke. He said that I should find the smallest number of cigarettes necessary to keep my symptoms at bay, whether it is 2 cigarettes, 5, 10 or 20. It turns out that for me it is about 20, or a pack a day.

(Are you stil with me???)

So, the end of 1999 was coming up and I had promised myself back in 1986 that I would quit smoking in the year 2000 and never smoke again. I now realized this might create a situation. Well, I figured if it was the nicotine in the cigarettes that kept me well I should be ok as there is more than one was to get nicotine into my system and smoking would not be necessary.

December 31, 1999 11:59PM. I butt out my last cigarette. I go to my room and put a full strength nicotine patch on my arm. 3 days later I begin to feel my stomach acting up. I put 2 patches on, one on either arm. by January 10th I have lost 5 pounds and I’m bleeding. I put 3 patches on, one on either arm and one directly over my heart. By the 27th I’d lost 35 pounds and I couldn’t walk. I did have some of the most vivid nightmares of my life though.

I came back to Vancouver as I could no longer work. I rented an apartment and spent the next 2 months living on my bathroom floor. I had begun at 176 pounds and dropped down to 134. I almost died. I finally relented and started smoking. I was very disappointed with myself as I tend to have a very strong will and when I say I’m going to do something (or not going to do something) I stick to it. In this case however it seemed to be a choice of stick to my word or waste away and die. (yes, I was that sick). So I smoked. Within a month I began to see definite improvement and although I was getting better it took 4 months for me to be able to leave my apartment. My first attempt at walking got me as far as the elevator before I returned to my bed.

That’s about it. I have been smoking ever since. I have had a few minor flare-ups since 2000 and every time it has been because I have been in an environment where I was not able to get in a pack a day and every time I simply sit in my room for 2 weeks smoking like a chimney until I am better.

Here’s the thing. I am NOT the only person who has benefitted from smoking. My story parallels that of MANY others. What annoys me is that in ALL cases those I have spoken to have figured this out on their own, by fluke, and no one from the medical profession even hinted at this as a remedy. What annoys me about this is that the medical community KNOWS there is a strong link between smoking and the cessation of UC sypmtoms… there have been many patients who have reported this. Unfortunately, due to the stigma of smoking, no doctor is willing to step forward and say what is the most obvious thing to say… you’re sick with UC? Smoke.

Here’s something else you may find interesting. Go to Google and type in there 3 words: Ulcerative Colitis Smoking.

What you’ll find are many cases where patients have found relief from UC symptoms by smoking and even more importantly you’ll find many studies that have shown a definite link between “nicotine and UC”. Read all that you can find. I’ll prepare you a bit by telling you that in all cases where studies have been performed the study will begin with this statement (or something close to it): Ulcerative Colitis is predominantly a disease of non-smokers”. It’s right there in black and white. Keep reading and you’ll discover that “non-smokers are more at risk than smokers and thoses who used to smoke but have quit are even more susceptible”.

I’m telling you this with the assumption that you’ve never heard about this connection. Perhaps you have, I don’t know. One way or the other I hope you’ll believe everything I’ve told you and that you’ll take some time to check up on what I’ve told you. It’s all true. Doctors know it is true yet no one will tell their patient to smoke for fear of being branded a “quack”. The last thing that you’ll find with anything associated to this strange connection is that there will always be some kind of disclaimer stating that “of course the negative effects of smoking are much worse than the benefits it may provide (or words to that effect). Garbage. No doctor can tell me that steroids are any less harmful or damaging than smoking. Yes, smoking is bad for me but I’d rather die of cancer in 5 or 10 or 20 years than die of this in 12 months of have half of my intestines cut out and have a baggy attached to my side… no t hanks.

There is a reason that smoking keeps me well and I wish I knew what it was. I wish someone would do a study on SMOKING, not nicotine, and find out why smoking keeps my and many others well. The problem is that no one will do this. I’ve even written to tobacco companies and cigarette manufacturers and the funniest thing is that THEY know that smoking is beneficial to UC patients because they’ve heard from others in my position, but their response is that they make cigarettes, they are not pharmaceutical manufacturers. I can’t blame them I guess.

Finally, am I telling you to start smoking? No, not yet. The truth is however that yes, if you or anyone else with UC asked me to give them some advice I’d tell them to smoke. I tell them to give it a month or two and see what happens. Will it work for everyone? I somehow don’t think so but if it helps YOU or anyone else then I believe it is worth my time to at least let someone else look into this and make up their own mind. If acidophilis or Asacol or Remicaid works for you and you’re living a happy and healthy life then I say keep on doing what you’re doing… but if not, then let’s find out more and see what we (you, I and everyone else who is affected by this) can do about it… the doctors seem only interested in following the party line and serving the wishes of the drug manufacturers.

That’s my story. It’s 2012 and I’ve been living with this now for 16 years. The thought of anyone else going through the pain and aggravation that I’ve been through makes me sick which is why I’m telling you my story. If you think it’s a bunch of garbage that’s fine. If you have been wondering about smoking and if it will help you, I say give it a try. It can’t be worse than all of the other “treatments” out there and all of the side effects that they have.

Where I’d like to be in a year:

On a golf course breaking 80.

Colitis Medications:

Asacol – nothing
Prednisone – nothing but lousy side effects
Metronizadole (Flagyl) – nothing
Aloe vera gel (orally) – nothing (yuck!)
Smoking – YIPPEE!

written by Bruce

submitted in the colitis venting area


21 thoughts on “Smoking and UC”

  1. Hey Bruce,

    Thanks for adding your story, and I wish you the very best with getting into the 70’s, that’s a goal of mine too, but the putter seems to be broken pretty bad:)

    For everyone else who’s interested in this topic, one which has been very popular on this site for a long time, here are some more stories you can read: (over 100 comments now, crazy eh..) (from September 29, 2010)

    “UC Man” has written a few stories you can see here: (and one of them focuses on smoking directly)

    Here’s a story from “Bald Eagle” who was back to work after smoking…

    Thanks again Bruce for sharing your experience, and I’m guessing what’s on your mind is also on the minds of many others due to the documented an undocumented associations between smoking and UC.

    Good luck on the course,


  2. I read over and over that smoking helps symptoms of ulcerative colitis but it made mine worse. I was never a very heavy smoker….a pack every 3-4 days, but the main reason I quit smoking was because it made my symptoms worse. I never smoked around my kids so when I dropped my daughter off at daycare I would light up and smoke one before I got to work. I work 7 blocks from my daycare. Before I even pulled in to work I’d have to toss out the cigarette and run to the bathroom. That’s when I finally said enough with that. I know smoking aggravates Crohn’s disease and this is one of the main reasons I think I was misdiagnosed.

  3. Torie

    Hi Bruce,
    I also was offered nicotine patches.
    I’ve just been in for an op (none UC related) and the pharmacist and Drs and nurses all asked me about my strange treatment of my strange disease/s. So I told them of my 17 months of bleeding and pooping myself to death while trialling every drug on offer. But none helped and all made me sicker. And then in one month my GI went overseas to train others and my GP left and my acupuncturist (who helped my pain) moved. I thought I would die. Left all alone, scared and sometimes hopeless, I waited for a miracle (which doesn’t happen) . Then my daughter called to tell me about a free Medicare (Australia) paid acupuncturist (which I took advantage of) and I got 2 letters in the mail. One from my old GPs office and a few weeks latter from my old GIs office.
    Short story my new GP was pretty good at knowing all the alternatives and offered all to me including nicotine patches. I ended up on a hormone called DHEA which was a natural hormone compounded especially for me with a little pregnenolone. It balanced my hormones and my immune system healed and my bowel healed and I’ve been in remission since.
    My new gastro was so impressed he said to stay on it and was happy to tell my GP so.
    So everyone will tell you that they know something about nicotine/smoking. But it’s the rare Dr that will .
    Oh side point… I’m a none smoker from a very heavy smoking family and both my sister and nana smoked really bad and had problems with their bowels but never diagnosed. My nana died of bowel cancer, my mum has had lung cancer and my sister is not working anymore because of other health issues. My dad and step dad both died of lung and liver disease. And I am the healthiest of them all. They are all 1-2 pack of 50 a day. You could get a bit far fetched with this scenario? Maybe I was always a second hand smoker and now I’m not? Maybe that set off my UC. ? Weirder things have happened than passive smoking?
    Great life story. Keep us up with it as you go along.

    1. Hi Torie,

      Really interesting story. I live in Oz and have UC as well. Can you provide name of your GP and contact details. I would love to see someone who would consider alternatives to mainstream medicine!

      Many thanks


  4. Oh yes, Bruce…I have definitely heard of this! I too used to smoke…alot…and when I finally quit, I was sticken with the worst flare I ever had. I did not have UC while I was smoking. Very strange indeed, but obviousky, there is something to all of this. Of course there is…there is no denying it. I have heard and read things time and time again about the correlation of smoking and UC.

    Here is something to ponder…did beginning to smoke at all, help to actually CA– USE our UC? Like, I guess I am trying to say…do our colons somehow become ‘addicted’ to whatever chemicals are in the cigarettes? Then, when we quit, not only do our brains go through the awful withdrawal…but do our colons as well? I know it sounds farfetched, but you gotta wonder what came first, the chicken or the egg, so to spoeak.

    Anyway, even tho I am aware that smoking would undoubtedly help my UC, I just can’t bring myself to take it up again. I don’t want those puppet lips and wrinkles that smoking brings…especially to us gals…lol. I feel like I’ve aged enough and look weathered enough just being sick with the UC off and on for the last 13 years, if you know waht I mean! Of course, the lung cancer thing always did freak me out, too…that’s why I quit…

    I wish just taking nicotine would have the same effect on UC, but it doesn’t seem to. I’d be ‘in’ then, I’ll tell you that! In a heartbeat.

    Cheers, and enjoy those smokes…I secretly envy you my friend…oh those big drags off a cig…mmmm

  5. Hi, Bruce. I quit smoking for the last time 3 years ago August. I had quit long term a couple times before and always noticed a correlation to bowel problems and quitting cigs. I’ve had the worst flares ever since being a non-smoker but I’ll never start smoking again. I’m glad smoking is helping you. The reason I finally quit for good was chest pains and I’ve since learned I have a prolaped heart valve and smoking was really causing problems. So for me it’s either die of a heart attack while smoking or be a non-smoker and suffer the occasional UC flare. I also became very sensitive to gluten when I quit smoking so it helped that, too, but alas, I gave up gluten. I would never recommend to anyone to start smoking to help their colitis but we are all different and you do what you have to to keep away from those horrible flares. I’ve thought about using nicotine patches but from hearing your story I guess I’ll stay away from those. Thank goodness their are a lot of natural treatments out there.

  6. Bev,
    I absolutely believe our colons go through some sort of withdrawal. They say our gut is a 2 Nd brain and I totally believe that. I smoked for almost 20 years. Suffered with bouts of occasional IBS during that time
    I quit Feb 18 2007 and got my first lovely UC symptoms may of 2007. U would love to go back to smoking but I’m a chain smoker. There is no way possible I could only have a couple cigarettes here and there. Also my dad died from lung cancer and that was hard to witness. I would never want to take it back up out of respect for him. It sure would be nice though if doctors would speak up and help us patients who truly need there help, not just their medicine.

    1. Hi Tracy…

      Yes, I was quite the heavy smoker as well. Loved it. I don’t ever want to smoke again, though, because I don’t want lung cancer either. It seems it is one of the quickest ways to get it, too. Heck, I don’t want any type of cancer!

      Anyway, I do believe that perhaps our colons were enjoying those cigarettes as much as the rest of our bodies were, and, just maybe, that has something to do with the UC starting up and/or being aggravated. It’s all too coincidental…


  7. Erin

    Idk trading UC for cancer doesn’t seem like a very good triad to me, not to mention it effecting everyone around you.
    Ill do my best not to judge though I mean whatever works right

  8. Dear Bruce
    Thank you for taking the time out to share your story with us. Over the years I’ve read a couple of similar stories and each time I read them I think “thank god it’s not just me and my imagination, other people in the world go through exactly the same as me and struggle with the colitis/smoking battle”(not that I’d wish this crappy disease on even my own worst enemy!)
    My story mirrors yours. I give up smoking, I get sick, end up back on the cigs. Same pattern of symptoms too. Anyway I’m almost resigned to smoking around 12 a day which keeps me well enough to have a mostly normal day to day life with my 10year old daughter and all that goes with having a busy tween. I do feel so bad that I’m a smoker, I lost my mum to cancer so the idea my daughter may have to deal with the same trauma THAT involves, scares me. I’m working myself up to quitting in October…again and in my mind I’m thinking “whatever happens DO NOT go back to smoking! Try everything else first, be it diet, meds or just trying to ride it out” so cross your fingers for me.
    I’ve never written on a msg board before, I’ve always just read the comments and interactions and taken comfort with knowing I’m not on my own with this ironic disease. Thank you for sharing, I agree 100% with what you’re saying. Oh and p.s one of my previous consultants in Cardiff did actually suggest to me to “balance meds and smoking for a better long term quality of life.”but added “obviously I can’t condone smoking”. (little disclaimer there on the end lol)
    Take care.

  9. To all who have replied to this post, thank you. I don’t want to smoke which is why I said I’d quit for good in 2000. I have no problem quitting smoking.

    I smoke a pack a day because that’s what works for me. If I could get by with 15 or 10 or 5 or none I’d gladly do it but that’s just the way it is for me today.

    My father died of cancer and I’ve heard all sorts of stories from others but the fact is that I have decided to choose quality of life over the possible future effects of smoking. It’s that simple. Considering the UC medications (prednisone, remicaid, etc…) and all of their nasty side effects, smoking isn’t all that bad, despite what those on their soapboxes will tell you. I am a considerate smoker and I always find a spot, away from others so that I don’t infringe on their right to clean air.

    I guess the reason I posted is for all of the people who have UC and simply have an awful, painful day to day existence because of it. I’ve been there and I know how it can take a toll on your life. I don’t want anyone to have to go through what I’ve been through.

    For anyone considering surgery, I want you to know that there is something that works for me and others that may work for you. I have a choice to be well and I know how fortunate I am to have that choice. I truly hope that my story might help at least one person realize that there is another option out there that may work for them.

  10. Dear Bruce
    We’re doing the right thing because it works for us! We don’t need to justify it but we do anyway. Someone once wrote on one of the msg boards “if smoking takes 7 years off my life it’s better than spending the rest of my life sat on a toilet”. And I agree with that sentiment. Good luck just keep doing what works for u. (and me)

  11. Graham from England


    Been there and a minimum of 4 -5 cigs per day have kept me well and like you I concluded that nothing else was worth considering as a reasonable alternative.

    Please read my post on olive oil, I quit cigarettes 1 year ago and all is good I promise you! You need a parachute before jumping out of the plane, here it is..

  12. Dear Bruce – thank you for your story. It is so similar to mine it is scary. Quit again two weeks ago – full on flare by yesterday. I am trying the olive oil (just found this website this morning) and going to the store for probiotics, L-glutamine and Vitamin D as well as peppermint tea – I’m already gluten, dairy and sugar free….if I have to smoke to get back in “remission” that is what I will do. I hope to find a combination that works and can minimize if not remove the cigarettes from my life permanently. Most important, at least I’m not crazy. Most people think I’m making excuses when I tell them why I smoke. If you don’t have UC you can’t possibly understand how awful it is. I wish you the very best!

    1. Good luck Kara…I am in remission on a probiotic, L-glutamine, astaxanthin and vitamin D. No meds.

      I used to smoke a long time ago, and never had any IC issues. When I finally quit for good, the UC reared it’s ugly head and has been there ever since. I never did start smoking again to get remission, because I wasn’t even aware of the correlation between the two at the time! 15 years ago, it just wasn’t known.

      Anyway, as for the probiotic, take it first thing in the morning with water, on an empty stomach. I don’t eat for an hour after that. I am in remission!


  13. Great discussion.
    There is something connecting smoking to UC.
    I was diagnosed with UC and put in the hospital fro 3 weeks in about 1992. This was about 8 months after I quit smoking. I was OK for a year or so, on meds, but UC never really went away, it came and went. For stress reasons unrelated to UC, I started smoking again in 1997. My UC cleared up. I didn’t connect the two details as I was just then coming down from prescribed medicines. Over the next 4 years I tried to quit smoking. About 3 weeks into stopping smoking each and every time UC returned. I read articles and thought that nicotine was the key. I started smoking and each and every time the UC subsided. Now it is 15 years later. I decided to try my luck and quit smoking again. This time with a nicotine replacement. I used e-cigs. E-cigs most definitely helped me quit smoking, I don’t desire a real cigarette anymore. Guess what? 6 weeks into not smoking real cigarettes the UC symptoms returned. I ignored them for two weeks but the symptoms just got worse.

    Nicotine in cigarettes is not the key ingredient. It must be something else. I didn’t want to but bought a pack a few days ago to try to ease the pain. Within 48 hours I was feeling better. Nicotine is addictive and sometimes I have smoked more than I should. My plan is use e-cigs to satisfy any need for nicotine and keep the need for cigarettes in check, I plan to smoke the minimal number of real cigarettes to keep the UC in remission.

  14. Hello all. This is Bruce, the original poster.

    For anyone who has looked at this thread, I posted it 5 years ago and I thought I’d post this as an update.

    I am still smoking and have had flares on and off over the past 5 years. I’ve tried a few of the ideas suggested here by others (olive oil, cabbage juice) but neither helped me at all.

    So, I am now going to try something new. FMT (Fecal Microbiota Transplant) is something I’ve looked into and researched for the past 6 months or so. It is not approved by Health Canada or the FDA to be performed anywhere in North America for anything other than c.Diff. It does have amazing results for c.Diff (about a 95% sure rate) and some studies have been done on its effect for UC patients.

    Having spoken to a few doctors and seen many, many testimonials for UC sufferers who say it has made a huge difference for them, I am now going to do this myself (as in DIY FMT).

    I could have spent about $10,000 or so and gone to a place in the UK called the Taymount Clinic but from what I’ve read, I may just as well try this myself on the cheap. It looks like the Taymount Clinic is a great place with excellent people and a fantastic set up for FMT but it’s just not worth the $10,000 to try something that may or may not work so I’l doing it myself.

    I have been in touch with a doctor from Portland, Oregon (Mark Davis at the Bright Clinic) and he has provided some information to assist me in doing this myself. I have also got a lot of great info from the “Power of Poop” website in DIY FMT.

    Just to be clear, I have a donor who has been very well screened and tested so I’m not just jumping into this blindly. I would encourage anyone who wants to try this to NOT do anything until you have a donor who has had as many tests as needed to ensure that you will not be putting any bad bugs or viruses into your body.

    I am going to to this over a 2-week period beginning this coming Saturday, July 15 2017. I will do one procedure every day for 2 weeks. Hopefully within the first 7-10 days I’ll see an improvement. What I really want to do is the see such an improvement that I will be able to cut down from 20 cigarettes per day to 0.

    I have a very good feeling about this and I hope it cures me. I have heard that it does have about a 20-25% “cure” rate for UC (not my numbers, but what I have read from many sources) and I hope to be in that group.

    If it works then I will be ecstatic – healthy for the first time in over 20 years and no smoking – it doesn’t get better than that. I’ll post an update here every day until I’m done for anyone who might be interested in following along.

  15. So, this is July 30 and it’s been 2 weeks since I began the FMT treatments.

    Long story short, the results have been quite incredible. I was experiencing a flare when I began (mucous, blood, urgency, about 10 BMs per day) and within 2 days there was no more blood and I was down to 2 trips to the bathroom. A little bit of mucous still and that has not yet completely gone away but there has been less every day.

    I did 6 DIY treatments to begin (Saturday through Thursday) and took 2 days off, then back on again from Sunday to today (Sunday). So a total of 14 treatments in 16 days.

    I began cutting down on cigarettes a week ago and I am now down from 20 to 11. So far, no ill effects but I am being very cautious with that aspect of things.

    I will add more next week (sorry I didn’t update every day as I said I would) and let you know my condition at that time. Hopefully everything will still be going as well as it has and I will also have stopped smoking completely.

    Fingers crossed.

  16. August 13, 2017.

    A month has passed since I began my DIY FMT treatments.

    Long story short, I am in complete remission. I don’t know if I am cured as only time will tell but I have stopped smoking and I have no symptoms at all. 1 or 2 regular BM’s per day, no pain, no bloating, no blood.

    I was going to write a long, detailed message about how amazing this has been and how everyone should know about this and every doctor should tell their UC patients about this and everyone should do it.

    But I won’t.

    I know that I am just an anonymous person on the internet and there is no reason to believe me but I can tell you this – I suffered with UC for 22 years and I had some incredibly severe flares and was told to have my colon removed. I now have no symptoms and all I did was treat myself with someone else’s poop. If you are reading this and you have UC and nothing has helped so far, do FMT, even if you have to do it on your own.

    Good luck.

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