Smoking is termed as the ‘Silent Killer’; It has been scientifically proven to be one of the leading causes of a great deal of health related diseases such as cancer and emphysema to name a few. We all share the same desire, the ability to live healthy and spend as much time as we can with our loved ones and be able to keep up with our children. The catastrophic addictive consequences brought by the ill-effects of smoking leaves nothing unturned, destroying our ability to be active to enjoy the quality of life we all wish to have.
There have been numerous research studies and presentations on how smoking impacts peoples lives for the worse once hooked. Most of us are familiar with the relationship between smoking and lung cancer but that’s just the tip of the ice-berg. Smoking is also known to be one of the leading causes of the following; cardiac diseases, coronary heart disease, stroke, chronic lung disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases or (COPD), cancers of the bladder, cervical, esophageal, laryngeal, hepatic, pancreatic, gastric (gut or stomach), trachea and blood. Use can also lead to or cause: pre-term birth, still birth, increasing chances of ectopic pregnancy, sudden death infant syndrome or (SIDS). Congenital defects such as: Cleft palate, affected libido, low sperm quality, poor bone density, cataracts, gum bleeding and so on. As you can tell all the above seems overwhelming and it’s recently become more of an alarming issue nowadays as the number of people affected range from active to passive (second hand) smokers–see my previous article: 14 Health Benefits of Green Tea and how this super-food helps to prevent lung cancer. It is still far beyond sight to see the effects on the general population, as more people continue to smoke irrespective of having the knowledge about the damage they are doing to their bodies. I believe that may people tend to turn the blind eye when it comes to awareness of the negative impacts of this addiction. My goal is to provide all the right information in one accessible place to help bring insight to motivate those who smoke or those who know someone who does to put an end to the slow potentially fatal harm that is damaging lives through every inhale.
Additives in Cigarettes
Cigarettes contain nearly 5,000 chemicals identified in tobacco smoke to date. Approximately 400 hundred toxic substances; including over 40 known carcinogenic agents and compounds. When drawn, a cigarette burns at 700°C at the cherry (or the lit end of the cigarette) and around 59°C in the core.
Covering the whole list would be cumbersome, but here we’ll have an overview of some of the most commonly known additives:
- Carbon monoxide: Most widely known pollutant in cigarette smoke, Influencing oxygen carrying capacity of the blood.
- Ammonia: Caustic, and hazardous, Used in commercial cleaning products.
- DDT: A banned insecticide.
- Arsenic: Used in manufacturing glass, as a pesticide (rat poison), and weed killer.
- Cyanide: Extremely poisonous salt of hydrocyanic acid.
- Nicotine: An alkaloid poison occurs in tobacco; used in medicine, and as an insecticide.
- Methanol: Wood alcohol.
- Pyridine: Irritant, causing upper respiratory tract irritation upon inhaling.
- Benzene: Highly inflammable, carcinogenic, gasoline additive, found in paints, adhesives, et al.
- Asbestos: Used in making fireproof articles; inhaling fibers are known to cause occupation disease like, asbestosis, and causative of lung cancer, bowel cancer, and other lung diseases.
Smoking and Ageing
For a more effective reason to quit I’d like to put ageing in the forefront for a moment. Smoking hastens the optimal ageing process, thus progressing and contributing to wrinkles. These alterations may occur after roughly 10 years of smoking. the degree of wrinkles all depend on a persons smoking habits. The more cigarettes you smoke or the longer you smoke the more wrinkled skin you’re likely to have. Early skin alterations from smoking may be hard to notice or it may remain unnoticed for quite some time. Wrinkling not only occurs on or around the face but also occurs on others parts of the body. Skin wrinkling may be irreversible no matter how many anti-ageing skin remedies and creams you use so the only way to prevent wrinkling would be quitting smoking. It initiates the cellular damage same as seen in Werner’s syndrome which is an autosomal recessive disease in which a person ages at an accelerated pace. Or like Progeria which is a syndrome that causes premature ageing manifesting at a really early age. Experts agree with the fact that smoking hastens the ageing process; adding that smokers on average look approximately 1.4 years older than non-smokers. In one research study it became evident that smoking not only contributes to speedy ageing, but also causing smokers to die roughly 10 years before their time.
Smoking and Sexual Health
For all the men out there, smoking emphatically has a negative impact on sexual health and sexual performance. For years, studies have shown that smoking causes erectile dysfunction (ED) due to poor blood flow to the penis, and one’s risk of erectile dysfunction (ED) is about twice that of one who doesn’t smoke. Not only does smoking cause (ED) it can also cause infertility as smoking leads to a low sperm count. Also, impaired performance eventually leads to diminished desire. When erectile dysfunction and Impotence (infertility) are combined then overall satisfaction will most likely suffer. Men aren’t the only ones to suffer as women have inauspicious sexual effects as well. In women, smoking may result in early menopause, increased risk of cervical cancer, menstrual irregularities, and many more issues.
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Smoking and the Nervous System
Smoking has massive damaging effects on the nervous system. A cigarette is a powerful central nervous system excitant and influence neurotransmitters like: serotonin , acetylcholine , dopamine and norepinephrine to name a few. Nicotine is the main component in tobacco smoke and is highly addictive. Nicotine in large doses, acts like a deadly poison. But in smaller doses, acts like an excitant. From the first puff there undergoes a massive infusion of toxins into your lungs and throughout your body. Nicotine combined with tar molecules are drawn into the lungs and from there head straight to the brain via bloodstream, which takes roughly 8 seconds.
As said, smoking affects neurotransmitters associated with anxiety and overall wellness. That is the reason why smokers have higher rates of clinical anxiety in comparison to non-smokers. Anxiety may be better explained in terms of tobacco effects on GABA (a neurotransmitter mostly responsible for neuronal process and overall state of wellness). The largest co-factors in smoking-related anxiety were levels of addiction.
Smoking is also related to depression as well. Nicotine and other additives in cigarettes affect serotonin and dopamine negatively, which are the neurotransmitters that are associated with mental health and depression. Smoking also elevates the sense of pleasure, that’s the reason why most of smokers feel better after a cigarette. Aside from anxiety and depression nicotine causes other symptoms like confusion (difficulty concentrating), nervousness, and restlessness especially during nicotine withdrawal. Nicotine is considered to be one of the hardest substances to break, ranked with opiates and alcohol. Therefore, It’s hard to quit, but easy to avoid.
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Smoking and the Circulatory System
Smoking is the leading cause of cardiovascular diseases (CVD) causing around 25,000 deaths a year from heart and circulatory anomalies. 1 in 5 premature deaths from heart or circulatory anomalies is also related to smoking. Free radicals, chemicals that are present in tobacco smoke can lead to cardiac diseases, myocardial infarction, and strokes. As elaborated earlier, tobacco smoke when entering our lungs can affect our bodies in a number of ways. Taking the circulatory system into consideration, smoking can raise blood pressure, heart rate, and cause thickening and hardening of the blood vessels. Causing them to lose elasticity and leading to the constriction of blood flow of the vessels in the skin. This eventually leads to a drop in skin temperature. Smoking also effects oxygen levels in the blood resulting in less oxygenated blood supply throughout the body. Additives in Tobacco smoke also results in one’s blood to become stickier than normal, thus making it more prone to clotting resulting in clogged arteries and veins (Embolism, Thrombosis et al). It also damages the lining of arteries, which is a contributing factor to atherosclerosis. It also influences blood flow to extremities, fingers, and toes. Due to the blockage of normal blood supply the risk of stroke and heart attack raises considerably.
Smoking and Cancer
When we think of smoking related cancers, lung cancer is often the first thought for majority of us. Smokers are more likely to get cancer than non-smokers. This is specifically true of lung cancer and oral cancer which usually effects smokers and rarely non-smokers. The link between tobacco smoking and lung cancer is clear. But in reality, there’re many more sorts of smoking related cancers. 80% to 90% of lung cancer cases occur as a result of smoking. In non-smokers, lung cancer would be a more rare diagnosis, only 0.5% of people who have never touched a cigarette develop lung cancer. In smokers, the risk of developing oral cancers is 4 times higher than of non-smokers with most common sites being on or beneath the tongue or on the lips but it may start anywhere but mainly areas of the mouth. Some common types of cancers in smokers are; pancreatic cancer (smoking being the cause in 30% of pancreatic cancer), head and neck cancer (tobacco use responsible for 85% of this type). Cancer of the esophagus (smoking doubles the risk), cancer of the kidneys (smoking is responsible for around 20%), gastric cancer (smokers twice prone than nonsmokers), colorectal cancers, blood cancer, bladder cancer, cancer of the cervix, skin, breasts and prostate. There’s no safe way to use tobacco, as cigarettes, cigars, pipes, et al, all cause cancer.
Smoking and Bone Health
Most people are not aware of the ill effects that smoking has on the musculoskeletal system; it has a huge risk factor causing osteoporosis which was first identified more than twenty years ago. Almost every body tissue is affected by smoking, but as we elaborated earlier smoking is certainly avoidable and many effects can be reversible. Only by quitting smoking we may be able to get back our normal healthy function. Modern researchers found a relation between smoking and the musculoskeletal system, this is crucial because the prime in building bone mass starts from childhood till about 30 years of age.
Smoking increases risks of developing osteoporosis (abnormal loss of bony tissue resulting in fragile porous bones attributable to lack of calcium — most common in post-menopausal women). Elderly smokers are 30% to 40% more likely to have hip fractures than non-smokers. Smoking also causes Rheumatoid Arthritis , which is an auto-immune disease. People who smoke also tend to be much thinner than non-smokers. Smokers with fractures take a great deal longer to heal as they’re much slower in healing process as compared to nonsmokers and also experience more complications. Evident from past studies done, smoking affects blood flow to the bones the same way as it affects the blood supply to other parts of the body. Nicotine slows the production of osteoblasts (bone-forming cells) thus resulting in less bone making or mass. Calcium, which is a mineral that aids in bone development and is necessary for bone mineralization and absorption is also affected by smoking. This leads to fragile bones or osteoporosis. Smoking has a negative role in breaking down estrogen more quickly, which plays an important role in building and maintaining a strong skeleton in men and women. Post surgery recovery and healing is slow in smokers as compared to nonsmokers and they’re prone to more infections which adds more complications to their recovery process. Smoking damages blood vessels and at the same time it also damages nerves in toes and feet, which may lead to more falls and fractures, due to less sensation and circulation.
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Smoking and Diabetes
Smoking has now proven to be an independent risk factor for diabetes related to increased risk of complications in diabetics. Smoking causes Type 2 diabetes and smokers are 30% to 40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Smokers with diabetes have more problems with insulin dosing and disease control than nonsmoker diabetics. According to a study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology , smoking 16 to 25 cigarettes a day increases your risk for Type 2 diabetes 3 times higher than that of a non-smoker.
Diabetic smokers are more likely to have health problems from diabetes. Serious complications include; kidney disease ( or Diabetic Nephropathy), eye disease (Diabetic Retinopathy–can cause blindness), heart disease, and nerve disease (Diabetic Neuropathy). Poor blood flow to the extremities which leads to infections, ulcers, diabetic foot and possible amputation (Removal of body parts such as feet and toes), Peripheral Neuropathy (nerve damage to the arms and legs causing numbness, weakness and poor coordination). Smokers with diabetes benefit once they quit smoking and can better control their blood sugar levels.
Smoking and Oral Health
Although smoking doesn’t increase the risk of having cavities, it causes considerable damage to the gums and other parts of the mouth. Some of the risks are; risks of tooth loss (smokers are 2 more likely to lose their teeth). As mentioned above, it’s the main cause of throat and oral cancers, halitosis (bad breath), discoloured teeth, increased build-up of plaque (tartar) on teeth, mouth sores, caries (roots, also known as cavities), smoker’s patches, tooth loss, shifting teeth. There is an increased risk of developing oral cancers, sinusitis and the need for dental implants. There is a lower success rate or a delay in healing after tooth extraction which leads to dry socket (which is a temporary and painful condition). Loss of taste and smell, smoker’s lip and hairy tongue. Smoking accompanied by alcoholism synergistically amplifies its bad effects. Smokers who also consume alcohol are at the risk of oral cancer greater than the combined risk of those who only smoke or only drink alcohol.
Smoking and the Sense of Taste and Smell
No doubt, an impaired smelling sense would rob anyone from the ability to appreciate aromas and scents in and around the world. The only senses we know that are impaired by smoking are the sense of taste and smell. Sense of hearing is not affected in the short term, nor is our sense of vision or pain or touch. However in the long term they can be impaired as tobacco affects blood vessels to the nerves in our eye, brain and skin. Macular degeneration affecting our eyes increases 2 to 5 fold by smoking.
The Benefits of Quitting
The advantages of quitting smoking begin right away and are extremely rewarding. There is a considerable reduction in diseases no matter what age one quits. When a person stops smoking before the age of 35 their life expectancy is slightly less than the people who never smoked because this gives their body time to recoup. Quitting smoking before the age of 50 decreases the risk of dying from smoking-related illnesses by 50%. So in other words it’s never too late to quit smoking to improve health even if one already has cardiac disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary diseases. The prognosis is greatly improved upon quitting in any case. It will also reduce the risk of getting various other conditions which although aren’t always life-threatening. In this case conditions such as; impotence erectile dysfunction (ED), infertility, osteoporosis, tooth loss, et al. Other benefits would be; reduced pregnancy related complications, feel better about yourself, improvement in your finances, food and drink are more appetizing, fresher breath and cleaner teeth. Why not have more control of your life and feel more energetic? If not think about yourself then think about your family and loved ones.
Timeline of Health Benefits after Quitting Smoking
- After 72 hours: Breathing becomes easier, bronchial tubes begin to relax, and energy level increase.
- After 1 month: Skin appearance improves (improved skin perfusion).
- After 3 to 9 months: Cough, crackles, breathing problems improve, and pulmonary function increases by around 10%.
- After 1 year: Risk of myocardial infarction falls to about half that of a smoker.
- After 10 years: Risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.
- After 15 years: Risk of heart attack falls to the same level that it would be for someone who has never smoked.
Smoking causes devastating consequences to you and your family. But let us not forget that the addiction of smoking is definitely avoidable, never sell yourself short and believe that you can conquer the habit. So let’s think for a moment and decide; is smoking that next cigarette more valuable than our lives or happiness of our families? This is a question that only you can answer for yourself.