Like most people, you already know that smoking is bad for your health. But do you really understand just how dangerous smoking really is? Tobacco contains nicotine, a highly addictive drug that makes it difficult for smokers to kick the habit. Tobacco products also contain many poisonous and harmful substances that cause disease and premature death. Did you know that out of a group of 1000 smokers (age 30), that a full quarter of them (250!) will die of smoking-related illnesses prior to completing middle age, an additional quarter will die prematurely from smoking-related illnesses shortly after retirement age, and another large group will develop debilitating chronic illnesses as a result of their smoking? Most people don't know the odds of getting sick as a result of smoking are really that bad, but when you do the numbers, that is how they come out. For many people, truly understanding the very real dangers associated with smoking becomes the motivating factor that helps them to quit.
Although it can be a very difficult habit to break, smoking is ultimately a choice; it is your responsibility to choose whether or not you will continue to smoke. This article provides a brief synopsis of the risks associated with smoking; an overview of nicotine addiction, including why it is so difficult to give up smoking; and an outline of the advantages and disadvantages of quiting. Once you have decided to quit, you will benefit from the information in this article about the physiological, psychological, and behavioral aspects of nicotine addiction; the different methods available to help you quit; and the steps you can take to make the process easier. Learning about and understanding the many facets of the smoking habit can put you on the right track to successful smoking cessation.
Every year, more than 480,000 people die in the United States (U.S.) due to tobacco-related diseases. That is around 1 in 5 of all deaths in the U.S. annually. It is estimated that 1 in 2 smokers will die from a smoking-related disease.
Smoking causes more deaths in the U.S. each year than the following combined:
- alcohol use
- firearm-related incidents
- illegal drug use
- motor vehicle incidents
Smoking shortens the life of a male by about 12 years and the life of a female by around 11 years.
Two poisons in tobacco that affect peoples' health are:
- Carbon monoxide is found in car exhaust fumes and is fatal in large doses. It replaces oxygen in the blood and starves organs of oxygen and stops them being able to function properly.
- Tar is a sticky, brown substance that coats the lungs and affects breathing.
Smoking affects many different areas of the body. Below, we cover each part of the body in turn:
Smoking can increase the likelihood of having a stroke by 2 to 4 times. Strokes can cause brain damage and death.
One way that stroke can cause brain injury is through a brain aneurysm, which occurs when the wall of the blood vessel weakens and creates a bulge. This bulge can then burst and lead to a serious condition called a subarachnoid hemorrhage.
Smoking can make bones weak and brittle, which is particularly dangerous for women, who are more prone to osteoporosis and broken bones.
Smoking causes plaque to build up in the blood. Plaque sticks to the walls of arteries (atherosclerosis), making them narrower; this reduces blood flow and increases the risk of clotting.
Smoking also narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow, as well as increasing blood pressure and heart rate.
Also, chemicals in tobacco smoke increase the chance of heart problems and cardiovascular diseases.
Some of the most common are:
Carbon monoxide and nicotine in cigarettes make the heart work harder and faster; this means that smokers will find it more difficult to exercise.
Even smokers who smoke 5 or fewer cigarettes a day can have early signs of cardiovascular disease.
The immune system protects the body against infection and disease. Smoking compromises this and can lead to autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn's disease and rheumatoid arthritis.
Smoking has also been linked totype 2 diabetes.
Smoking can cause a variety of lung problems.
Perhaps the most obvious part of the body affected by smoking is the lungs. In fact, smoking can impact the lungs in a number of different ways.
Primarily, smoking damages the airways and air sacs (known as alveoli) in the lungs.
Often, lung disease caused by smoking can take years to become noticeable, this means it is often not diagnosed until it is quite advanced.
There are many lung and respiratory problems caused by smoking; below are three of the most common in the American population:
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): This is a long-term disease that worsens over time. It causes wheezing, shortness of breath, and chest tightness. It is the third leading cause of death in the U.S. There is no cure.
Chronic bronchitis: This occurs when the airways produce too much mucus, leading to a cough. The airways then become inflamed, and the cough is long-lasting. In time, scar tissue and mucus can completely block the airways and cause infection. There is no cure, but quitting smoking can reduce symptoms.
Emphysema: This is a type of COPD that reduces the number of sacs in the lungs and breaks down the walls in between. This destroys the person's ability to breathe, even when resting. In the latter stages, patients often can only breathe using an oxygen mask. There is no cure, and it cannot be reversed.
Other diseases caused by smoking include pneumonia, asthma, and tuberculosis.
Smoking can cause bad breath and stained teeth, as well as gum disease, tooth loss, and damage to the sense of taste.
Women who smoke can find it more difficult to become pregnant. Women who smoke when pregnant increase a number of risks for the baby, including:
- premature birth
- low birth weight
- sudden infant death syndrome
- infant illnesses
Smoking can cause impotence in men because it damages blood vessels in the penis. It can also damage sperm and affect sperm count. Men who smoke have a lower sperm count than men who are non-smokers.
Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen that can reach the skin, which speeds up the aging process of the skin and can make it dull and gray.
Smoking prematurely ages the skin by 10-20 years and makes facial wrinkling, particularly around the eyes and mouth, three times more likely.
Smoking causes around 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. In the case of lung cancer, around 80 percent of all deaths are caused by smoking.
Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women; it is extremely difficult to treat.
Tobacco smoke has around 7,000 chemicals in it, and around 70 of those are directly linked to causing cancer.
As well as the lungs, smoking is also a risk factor for these types of cancer, among others:
- larynx (voice box)
- pharynx (throat)
- esophagus (swallowing tube)
- myeloid leukemia
Cigars, pipe-smoking, menthol cigarettes, chewing tobacco, and other forms of tobacco all cause cancer and other health problems. There is no safe way to use tobacco.
The benefits of quitting
Quitting smoking reduces health risks.
The chances of having a stroke reduces to half of that of a non-smoker in 2 years, and the same as a non-smoker in 5 years.
Risks for cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder drop by half within 5 years. The risk for lung cancer drops by half after 10 years.
A year after quitting smoking, the risk of a heart attack is reduced by half. After 15 years, it is the same as someone who has never smoked.
Overall, once someone stops smoking, their health will improve and their body will begin to recover.