In the US alone, smoking has been found to cause one in every five deaths. In the UK, around 100,000 people die every year due to smoking-related illnesses, with more deaths linked to the habit itself. Worldwide, the numbers reveal a trend: smoking has harmful health effects, and if care is not taken early, can lead to death.
The smoke produced by tobacco cigarettes contains thousands of chemicals, most of which are harmful and cause cancer. The most prominent chemicals are nicotine, tar and carbon monoxide. Nicotine is the addictive agent in cigarettes, and a drop in nicotine levels in the blood is what causes smokers to light another cigarette. Tar is the sticky brown substance that coats the lungs, and can stain the teeth and fingers. In the lungs, tar shows as black “soot,” an effect that irritates the lungs and restricts breathing.
Carbon monoxide, in large doses, is poisonous and is found in car exhaust fumes. When it takes the place of oxygen in the blood, it deprives the body’s vital organs of oxygen, often leading to a slow death. Over time, carbon monoxide impairs the proper functioning of the organs, and slowly they begin to develop complications.
Effects of smoking
Let’s start with autoimmune disease risks. Smoking has been shown to increase the risk of several autoimmune diseases, like Crohn’s disease. Periodical flare-ups of autoimmune diseases can also be linked to smoking, which also makes it easy for one to develop symptoms to the same diseases.
Bone density is affected by smoking. Alongside obesity, alcohol consumption and reduced physical activity, smoking is included as a factor for osteoporosis, a condition in which the bone density decreases, making bones more susceptible to breakages and fractures. Women who start smoking at earlier ages are more likely to develop osteoporosis, and likely to have lower levels of estrogen, a factor that can cause the onset of menopause earlier than expected. Men are not spared either, as smoking increases the risk of erectile dysfunction and infertility.
However, the most physical aspect of smoking is manifested in the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. The chemicals in tobacco harm the blood cells and impair the heart’s ability to function. A weak heart is susceptible to aneurysms (blood clots that can burst any time and lead to death), weakens the arteries and heart muscles, increases the risk of strokes, and increase the development of plaque in the arteries, a condition that leads to coronary heart disease. As one inhales the tobacco, the blood cells react to the chemicals within, which can be manifested as high blood pressure and heart rate.
In the lungs, smoking causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a condition that causes shortness of breath, wheezing, and chest tightness. Lung tissue is destroyed, which impairs proper breathing and uptake of oxygen over time. The lining of the bronchial tubes swells, restricting the smooth passage of oxygen. With less oxygen to work with, smokers find that their tire easily and run of breath faster, especially when undertaking physical activity.
Then there’s the various types of cancer smoking has been linked to. The most common is lung cancer, with over 70% of lung cancer cases as a direct result of smoking. More to that, smoking also plays a role in mouth, nose and throat cancers, esophageal cancer, blood and bone marrow cancers, and tracheal cancer. You’ll notice a link in almost all the mentioned types of cancer: they either directly or indirectly involve organs that come into contact with tobacco smoke.
Secondhand smokers are the people that don’t inhale smoke directly, but come into contact with the smoke that smokers breathe out. It’s been found that people who inhale secondhand smoke are in quite a perilous position, even if they don’t light the cigarette themselves. For example, breathing in secondhand smoke increases your chances of lung cancer by more than 20%.
Young children and babies are most vulnerable to the harmful effects of secondhand smoke. Children who inhale such smoke for prolonged periods are at risk of developing respiratory problems such as asthma, chronic coughing, and bronchitis.
As soon as you quit smoking …
With all those harmful health effects of smoking, it makes sense that the sooner one quits smoking, the better. Within 8 hours of putting down the cigarette, the heart rate and blood pressure drop to normal levels and nicotine and carbon monoxide levels in the bloodstream drop slowly. Oxygen uptake increases, and one will notice their hands become steadier.
Within a week, the lungs start to clean themselves of the tar and dust that has accumulated, and participating in exercises at this point helps the body’s natural cleaning exercise. Coughing and wheezing reduces, and the immune system is much better at fighting any respiratory infections. You’re not in the clear just yet, but with sustained progress and adherence to a clean, smoking-free life, you’ll drastically reduce the chances of lung cancer, and your overall health will improve.
Many smokers often complain of the smelly nature of their hair and clothes due to the smoke, even where they still enjoy the habit. Other times, it’s the disapproving looks from friends and family, and even people they don’t know that smokers have to deal with. Others feel ashamed of smoking in public, and go to great lengths to cover it up.
Quitting smoking not only gives you a chance to break away from all the negative perceptions surrounding smoking, but also gives you an opportunity to live a better, healthier life. You’ll smell cleaner and fresher, and no longer do you have to deal with the little annoyances that displeasure from those around you bring.
If you have kids looking up to you, quitting smoking sets an example of overcoming life’s challenges, and your standing as a role model is enhanced, thus even reducing the chances of kids picking up the habit when they get older.
Quitting now will increase your chances of living a healthier life, and you’ll have more energy to accomplish your dreams, not to mention set an example to the people who look up to you.