The Health Cost of Smoking
No matter how you smoke it, tobacco is dangerous to your health. There are no safe substances in any tobacco products, from acetone and tar to nicotine and carbon monoxide. The substances you inhale don’t just affect your lungs. They can affect your entire body.
Smoking can lead to a variety of ongoing complications in the body, as well as long-term effects on your body systems. While smoking can increase your risk of a variety of problems over several years, some of the bodily effects are immediate. Learn more about the symptoms and overall effects of smoking on the body below.
Tobacco smoke is incredibly harmful to your health. There’s no safe way to smoke. Replacing your cigarette with a cigar, pipe, or hookah won’t help you avoid the health risks.
Cigarettes contain about 600 ingredients, many of which can also be found in cigars and hookahs. When these ingredients burn, they generate more than 7,000 chemicals, according to the American Lung Association. Many of those chemicals are poisonous and at least 69 of them are linked to cancer.
In the United States, the mortality rate for smokers is three times that of people who never smoked. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that smoking is the most common “preventable cause of death” in the United States. While the effects of smoking may not be immediate, the complications and damage can last for years. The good news is that quitting smoking can reverse many effects.
One of the ingredients in tobacco is a mood-altering drug called nicotine. Nicotine reaches your brain in mere seconds and makes you feel more energized for a while. But as that effect wears off, you feel tired and crave more. Nicotine is extremely habit-forming, which is why people find smoking so difficult to quit.
Physical withdrawal from nicotine can impair your cognitive functioning and make you feel anxious, irritated, and depressed. Withdrawal can also cause headaches and sleep problems.
When you inhale smoke, you’re taking in substances that can damage your lungs. Over time, this damage leads to a variety of problems. Along with increased infections, people who smoke are at higher risk for chronic non-reversible lung conditions such as emphysema, the destruction of the air sacs in your lungs chronic bronchitis, permanent inflammation that affects the lining of the breathing tubes of the lungs chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a group of lung diseases lung cancer. Withdrawal from tobacco products can cause temporary congestion and respiratory discomfort as your lungs and airways begin to heal. Increased mucus production right after quitting smoking is a positive sign that your respiratory system is recovering.
Children whose parents smoke are more prone to coughing, wheezing, and asthma attacks than children whose parents don’t. They also tend to have higher rates of pneumonia and bronchitis.
Smoking damages your entire cardiovascular system. Nicotine causes blood vessels to tighten, which restricts the flow of blood. Over time, the ongoing narrowing, along with damage to the blood vessels, can cause peripheral artery disease.
Smoking also raises blood pressure, weakens blood vessel walls, and increases blood clots. Together, this raises your risk of stroke.
You’re also at an increased risk of worsening heart disease if you’ve already had heart bypass surgery, a heart attack, or a stent placed in a blood vessel.
Smoking not only impacts your cardiovascular health, but also the health of those around you who don’t smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke carries the same risk to a nonsmoker as someone who does smoke. Risks include stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.
Integumentary system (skin, hair, and nails):
The more obvious signs of smoking involve skin changes. Substances in tobacco smoke actually change the structure of your skin. A recent study has shown that smoking dramatically increases the risk of squamous cell carcinoma (skin cancer).
Your fingernails and toenails aren’t immune to the effects of smoking. Smoking increases the likelihood of fungal nail infections.
Hair is also affected by nicotine. An older study found it increases hair loss, balding, and graying.
Smoking increases the risk of mouth, throat, larynx, and esophagus cancer. Smokers also have higher rates of pancreatic cancer. Even people who “smoke but don’t inhale” face an increased risk of mouth cancer.
Smoking also has an effect on insulin, making it more likely that you’ll develop insulin resistance. That puts you at an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and its complications, which tend to develop at a faster rate than in people who don’t smoke.
Sexuality and reproductive system:
Nicotine affects blood flow to the genital areas of both men and women. For men, this can decrease sexual performance. For women, this can result in sexual dissatisfaction by decreasing lubrication and the ability to reach orgasm. Smoking may also lower sex hormone levels in both men and women. This can lead to decreased sexual desire.
Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
- Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States. This is nearly one in five deaths.
- Smoking causes more deaths each year than the following causes combined:
- Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)
- Illegal drug use
- Alcohol use
- Motor vehicle injuries
- Firearm-related incidents
- More than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the United States.
- Smoking causes about 90% (or 9 out of 10) of all lung cancer deaths. More women die from lung cancer each year than from breast cancer.5
- Smoking causes about 80% (or 8 out of 10) of all deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Cigarette smoking increases the risk of death from all causes in men and women.
- The risk of dying from cigarette smoking has increased over the last 50 years in the U.S.
Smoking and Increased Health Risks
Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer.
- Estimates show smoking increases the risk:
- For coronary heart disease by 2 to 4 times
- For strokes by 2 to 4 times
- Of men developing lung cancer by 25 times
- Of women developing lung cancer by 25.7 times
- Smoking causes diminished overall health, increased absenteeism from work, and increased health care utilization and cost.
Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease
Smokers are at greater risk for diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels (cardiovascular disease).
- Smoking causes stroke and coronary heart disease, which are among the leading causes of death in the United States.
- Even people who smoke fewer than five cigarettes a day can have early signs of cardiovascular disease.
- Smoking damages blood vessels and can make them thicken and grow narrower. This makes your heart beat faster and your blood pressure goes up. Clots can also form.
- A stroke occurs when:
- A clot blocks the blood flow to part of your brain;
- A blood vessel in or around your brain bursts.
- Blockages caused by smoking can also reduce blood flow to your legs and skin.
Smoking and Respiratory Disease
Smoking can cause lung disease by damaging your airways and the small air sacs (alveoli) found in your lungs.
- Lung diseases caused by smoking include COPD, which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
- Cigarette smoking causes most cases of lung cancer.
- If you have asthma, tobacco smoke can trigger an attack or make an attack worse.
- Smokers are 12 to 13 times more likely to die from COPD than nonsmokers.
Smoking and Cancer
Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body: (See figure above)
- Blood (acute myeloid leukemia)
- Colon and rectum (colorectal)
- Kidney and ureter
- Oropharynx (includes parts of the throat, tongue, soft palate, and the tonsils)
- Trachea, bronchus, and lung
Smoking also increases the risk of dying from cancer and other diseases in cancer patients and survivors.
If nobody smoked, one of every three cancer deaths in the United States would not happen.
Smoking and Other Health Risks
Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and affects a person’s overall health.
- Smoking can make it harder for a woman to become pregnant. It can also affect her baby’s health before and after birth. Smoking increases risks for:
- Preterm (early) delivery
- Stillbirth (death of the baby before birth)
- Low birth weight
- Sudden infant death syndrome (known as SIDS or crib death)
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Orofacial clefts in infants
- Smoking can also affect men’s sperm, which can reduce fertility and also increase risks for birth defects and miscarriage.
- Smoking can affect bone health.
- Women past childbearing years who smoke have weaker bones than women who never smoked. They are also at greater risk for broken bones.
- Smoking affects the health of your teeth and gums and can cause tooth loss.
- Smoking can increase your risk for cataracts (clouding of the eye’s lens that makes it hard for you to see). It can also cause age-related macular degeneration (AMD). AMD is damage to a small spot near the center of the retina, the part of the eye needed for central vision.
- Smoking is a cause of type 2 diabetes mellitus and can make it harder to control. The risk of developing diabetes is 30–40% higher for active smokers than nonsmokers.
- Smoking causes general adverse effects on the body, including inflammation and decreased immune function.
- Smoking is a cause of rheumatoid arthritis.
Quitting and Reduced Risks
- Quitting smoking cuts cardiovascular risks. Just 1 year after quitting smoking, your risk for a heart attack drops sharply.
- Within 2 to 5 years after quitting smoking, your risk for stroke may reduce to about that of a nonsmoker’s.
- If you quit smoking, your risks for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder drop by half within 5 years.
- Ten years after you quit smoking, your risk for dying from lung cancer drops by half.
When you smoke, the poisons from the tar in your cigarettes enter your blood. These poisons in your blood then:
- Make your blood thicker, and increase chances of clot formation
- Increase your blood pressure and heart rate, making your heart work harder than normal
- Narrow your arteries, reducing the amount of oxygen-rich blood circulating to your organs.
Together, these changes to your body when you smoke increase the chance of your arteries narrowing and clots forming, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Smoking damages your heart and your blood circulation, increasing the risk of conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels), and cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to your brain).
Carbon monoxide from the smoke and nicotine both put a strain on the heart by making it work faster. They also increase your risk of blood clots. Other chemicals in cigarette smoke damage the lining of your coronary arteries, leading to the furring of the arteries.
In fact, smoking doubles your risk of having a heart attack, and if you smoke you have twice the risk of dying from coronary heart disease than lifetime non-smokers.
The good news is that after only one year of not smoking, your risk is reduced by half. After stopping for 15 years, your risk is similar to that of someone who has never smoked.
Smokers have an increased chance of getting stomach cancer or ulcers. Smoking can weaken the muscle that controls the lower end of your gullet (esophagus) and allow acid from the stomach to travel in the wrong direction back up your gullet, a process known as reflux.
Smoking is a significant risk factor for developing kidney cancer, and the more you smoke the greater the risk. For example, research has shown that if you regularly smoke 10 cigarettes a day, you are one and a half times more likely to develop kidney cancer compared with a non-smoker. This is increased to twice as likely if you smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day.
Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to your skin. This means that if you smoke, your skin ages more quickly and looks grey and dull. The toxins in your body also cause cellulite.
Smoking prematurely ages your skin by between 10 and 20 years and makes it three times more likely you’ll get facial wrinkling, particularly around the eyes and mouth. Smoking even gives you a sallow, yellow-grey complexion and hollow cheeks, which can cause you to look gaunt.
The good news is that once you stop smoking, you will prevent further deterioration of your skin caused by smoking.
Smoking can cause your bones to become weak and brittle. Women need to be especially careful as they are more likely to suffer from brittle bones (osteoporosis) than non-smokers.
Smoking can affect pregnancy and the developing fetus in several ways, including:
- increasing the risk of ectopic pregnancy
- reducing the baby’s birth weight
- increasing the risk of preterm delivery
- damaging the fetus’s lungs, brain, and central nervous system
- increasing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome
- contributing to congenital abnormalities, such as cleft lip or cleft palate
The CDC report that people who smoke regularly have a 30–40 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who do not.
Smoking can also make it more difficult for people with diabetes to manage their condition.
6. Weakened immune system
Smoking cigarettes can weaken a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to illness.
It can also cause additional inflammation in the body.
7. Vision problems
Smoking cigarettes can cause eye problems, including a greater risk of cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
Other vision problems related to smoking include:
8. Poor oral hygiene
People who smoke have double the risk of gum disease. This risk increases with the number of cigarettes a person smokes.
Symptoms of gum disease include:
- swollen and tender gums
- bleeding when brushing
- loose teeth
- sensitive teeth
Smoking tobacco can limit a person’s ability to taste and smell things properly. It can also stain the teeth yellow or brown.
9. Unhealthy skin and hair
Smoking can cause the hair and skin to smell of tobacco. It can also contribute to hair loss and balding.
10. Risk of other cancers
In addition to the well-documented link with lung cancer, smoking cigarettes can also contribute to other forms of cancer.
People who smoke are also three times as likely to develop bladder cancer than people who do not.
Smoking cigarettes can also double a person’s risk of stomach cancer. Tobacco is especially linked to stomach cancers that occur near the esophagus.
Cigarettes can also increase the risk of:
- mouth cancer
- laryngeal cancer
- throat cancer
- esophageal cancer
- kidney cancer
- cervical cancer
- liver cancer
- colon cancer
- acute myeloid leukemia
The ill-effects of smoking cigarettes do not only affect people who smoke. Secondhand smoke can also have significant health effects on family members, friends, and coworkers.
Effects of exposure to secondhand smoke include:
- increasing the risk of colds and ear infections
- making asthma worse
- raising blood pressure
- damaging the heart
- reducing levels of high-density lipoprotein, or “good,” cholesterol
Once a person stops smoking, the benefits start accumulating. These include clearer skin, improved oral health, more stable hormones, a stronger immune system, and a reduced risk of many types of cancers.
Some other benefits of quitting smoking include:
- After 20 minutes–12 hours: Heart rate and carbon monoxide in the blood drop to normal levels.
- After 1 year: The risk of a heart attack is much lower, as is blood pressure. Coughing and upper respiratory problems begin to improve.
- After 2–5 years: The risk of stroke drops to that of someone who does not smoke, according to the CDC.
- After 5–15 years: The risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder cancer is reduced by half.
- After 10 years: The risk of lung cancer and bladder cancer is half that of someone who currently smokes.
- After 15 years: The risk of heart disease is similar to that of someone who never smoked.
Nicotine is an addictive drug and can cause withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using it. These symptoms including cravings, increased appetite, and irritability. Cravings and other effects typically subside over time.
Popular in: Smoking / Quit Smoking
I experimented with smoking at a young age. I would steal cigarettes from my dad’s pack of smokes hide somewhere and I would cough and smoke that cigarette. Why I do not know. My dad was aware of what I was doing and there came that dreaded day when he caught me smoking one of his cigarettes.
I thought I would end up with a big lecture, instead, my dad handed me a fresh pack of cigarettes and got me to smoke all the contents. It made me sick and that was my end to smoking. As time went by and I entered High School I started to pick up the habit again, all the cool people were smoking and I wanted to be one of them. For some reason, the habit did not stick for a long time.
During the years I watched my father’s smoking habit increase along with a constant cough and shortness of breath. Eventually, due to illness, he had to give up smoking, but the damage had been done.
I understand it is one of the hardest habits to quit. I started searching the web for alternatives that I would like to share with you.
Ways to help you Quit Smoking if that is what you want:
The use of herbs and supplements such as Lobelia, St. John’s Wort, Oat Straw, Valerian, and Ginseng, have not been scientifically proven to help quit smoking. The idea behind herbal remedies is to help reduce the effects of nicotine withdrawal symptoms.
Images and methods that may help, if you want to quit smoking: Please click on the URL below
Thank you for reading,
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