Smoking cigarettes is one of the most detrimental things one can do to their body. The toxic chemicals contained in cigarette smoke are extremely harmful, and even deadly, to many direct users. It can lead to a higher risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease, lung conditions, fertility problems, and a weakened immune system.
Additionally, when others are exposed to secondhand smoke, they can also develop these issues. Quitting smoking is the best way to help prevent these negative health conditions from occurring to you and those around you.
Smoking Statistics Worldwide
Across the globe, over 7 million people die annually due to tobacco use. Without continued efforts to curb smoking worldwide, by 2030 over 8 million people will succumb to tobacco related diseases each year. This statistic does not even account for those who are exposed to second-hand smoke and do not consume tobacco directly. Not only does smoking tobacco negatively affect the smoker themselves, but it also affects those around them. Annually, 1.2 million people die from being exposed to second-hand smoke.
How Smoking Can Affect the Cardiovascular System
One of the main causes of death worldwide can be attributed to cardiovascular diseases, which account for approximately 1 in 3 deaths. Many of these deaths are linked to smoking and secondhand smoke. By smoking tobacco, one increases their risk of stroke by twofold and their risk of heart disease by fourfold.
Smoking damages the cells that line the blood vessels, causing them to become inflamed and narrowing the pathways. This can lead to many different cardiovascular conditions. Coronary heart disease is caused when blood flow to the heart muscle is blocked by a buildup of plaque or blood clots. When this happens, a heart attack and sudden death can occur. A stroke can occur when a clot blocks the flow to the brain or a blood vessel in or around the brain bursts. They can lead to permanent damage, like paralysis, loss of vision, and loss of speech, or death.
Peripheral arterial disease (PAD) is another condition whose risk is greatly increased by smoking. This occurs when blood flow to the arms, legs, hands, and feet are reduced, depriving the cells and tissue of oxygen. In extreme cases, PAD can also lead to amputation of the affected limbs. The aorta is the main artery that carries oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. An abdominal aortic aneurysm is a weakened area that occurs near the abdomen. A ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm is deadly, and almost all occurrences of this condition are caused by smoking.
If one is lucky enough to not experience one of the more ghastly effects of smoking, they are still at risk of an increased blood pressure and a faster beating heart. Smoking even one cigarette a day can increase one’s risk of heart disease and stroke. Those who smoke one cigarette a day are already half as likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke as those who smoke an entire pack a day.
Quitting smoking is the best way a current smoker can decrease their risk of heart disease immediately. In just a year, the risk of heart attack is decreased dramatically. Even those who have already had a heart attack can decrease their risk greatly of having another in this time frame. After five years, former smokers can reduce their risk of stroke to that of those who have never smoked before.
How Smoking Can Affect the Respiratory System
One of the other main organ functions that is disturbed by smoking are the lungs. Each puff of a cigarette contains over 700 chemicals that hit the lungs and damage the airways and alveoli, or small air sacs found in the lungs. The swelling and rupturing of the alveoli prevent the lungs from taking in as much oxygen and releasing carbon dioxide. It can also cause a buildup of mucus, increasing breathing difficulties. The damage to the lungs can cause them to not function properly, leading to a variety of respiratory issues.
Smokers are up to 22 times more likely to develop lung cancer than the average non-smoker. Two-thirds of lung cancer deaths are caused by tobacco smoking, about 1.2 million deaths a year. Those who are exposed to secondhand smoke are also at an increased risk for developing lung cancer. Asthma can also be intensified by smoking cigarettes. This decreases a person’s ability for physical activity and can worsen asthma attacks, requiring emergency medical care.
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is another disease that affects many smokers. Smokers are 3 to 4 times more likely to acquire COPD. About 1 in 5 smokers will develop it in their lifetime, especially those who start smoking at a young age, as smoking significantly slows down lung growth and development. 8 in 10 cases of COPD are caused by smoking. COPD obstructs breathing and eventually kills the patient due to lack of air. Smokers are 12 to 13 times more likely to die from COPD than non-smokers.
Smoking cigarettes also increases the risk of transforming tuberculosis from its latent state to an active form. About 1 in 4 of the world’s population has latent tuberculosis, and those who smoke are more than two times more likely to develop active tuberculosis. Tuberculosis further reduces lung function and can lead to permanent disability or even death.
Since smoking inhibits lung growth and development, children of smokers can suffer from many of these diseases as well, even through adulthood. For expectant mothers who smoke, their infants can be extremely likely to these diseases by being exposed to the toxic chemicals in utero.
How Smoking Can Affect the Immune System
The immune system is the human body’s way of protecting itself from diseases ranging from the common cold to cancer. Cigarette smoke contains high levels of tar and other chemicals that inhibit the body’s ability to fight off disease, making smokers more susceptible to all illnesses.
The immunosuppressive effects of smoking also increase the risk of autoimmune disorders, where the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s own healthy cells and tissues. This is especially true for those who have a genetic predisposition to autoimmune disorders. One of these disorders, rheumatoid arthritis, has been recently shown to be a cause of smoking. Rheumatoid arthritis is when the immune system attacks the joints, causing swelling and irritation, and making it harder to get around and do daily activities. Smoking can also decrease the effectiveness of its treatment.
For those living with HIV, smoking puts them at a higher risk of developing AIDS. As an HIV positive smoker, the average length of life lost is 12.3 years, more than double that of an HIV positive non-smoker. People with HIV are also at a higher risk for developing any of the negative effects of smoking than those without HIV. They are also more likely to get HIV-related infections, such as mouth infections and pneumonia.
How Smoking Can Affect Fertility and Pregnancy
Smoking can affect a couple’s ability for reproduction. Studies have suggested that smoking can affect hormone production, making it harder for women smokers to get pregnant. It can also reduce the viability of sperm, further impeding fertility. Additionally, cigarette smoke has been shown to cause erectile dysfunction. It alters the blood flow needed for an erection, causing impotence. About 18 million American men are currently struggling with erectile dysfunction, and men who smoke are more likely to have this issue. Erectile dysfunction is more likely to persist or become permanent unless one stops smoking early on.
Pregnancy complications are also more likely to arise in women who smoke. Ectopic pregnancy is when the egg fails to move into the uterus and instead attaches itself to other organs outside the womb. These almost always end in death of the fetus and sometimes are deadly for the mother as well. Smoking has been shown to cause this condition, and evidence also suggests that smoking during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage.
If one is lucky enough to be able to conceive while smoking, they are not in the clear yet. Smoking can have detrimental effects to the mother and fetus during pregnancy. Mothers who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to deliver babies with low birth weights or preterm, both of which are leading causes of infant disability and death. Smoking during pregnancy can also impede fetus development, particularly in the lungs and brain. Fetuses exposed to smoke during development are more likely to have birth defects, such as a cleft lip and/or palate. Sudden infant death syndrome is also more likely to occur in babies exposed to cigarette smoke during pregnancy and after delivery.
How Smoking Can Cause Cancer
Cancer is a disease that occurs when normal, healthy cells divide abnormally; resulting in a multitude of adverse health effects. There are more than 100 different types of cancer, and they can affect nearly all parts of the human body. The effects of cancer can be detrimental, causing fatigue, pain, and many times, death. Smoking cigarettes is directly linked to causing cancer, with lung cancer being one of the main culprits. In fact, 9 out of 10 lung cancers are caused by smoking cigarettes or exposure to secondhand smoke, indicating how dangerous smoking cigarettes is for your health.
It is not only lung cancer that is caused by smoking cigarettes, however. Smoking alone accounts for 48.5% of 12 different types of cancer, some of which include liver, colon, and oral cavity and throat cancer. Even though rates of smoking have generally decreased in recent decades, hundreds of thousands of Americans still die every year from smoking related illnesses.
If people had never smoked, 1 in 3 deaths from cancer would be eliminated entirely. This is clearly still a major health concern for many Americans, and anyone who currently smokes should seek ways of quitting in order to greatly reduce their risk for many different types of cancer.
The benefits of quitting smoking are self-evident in helping to prevent the development of cancer. Within five years of quitting smoking, chances of getting cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. In addition, the chances of getting lung cancer are cut in half after quitting smoking. If you choose to continue to smoke, even with the vastly increased risk of various cancers, it is imperative that you partake in frequent cancer screenings. Anyone who smokes heavily or is an older smoker should receive screenings for lung cancer every year, and to also consider screenings for other types of cancer.
How to Prevent the Health Effects of Smoking
The best solution to prevent the health effects of smoking is to quit entirely since every cigarette smoked increases the risk of a multitude of diseases and damages a variety of organs in your body. However, for those who wish to continue smoking, there are ways to mitigate some of the negative health effects. Many Americans consider themselves to be “light or intermittent” smokers, which would be people who smoke roughly less than 5 cigarettes every day; or people who don’t smoke daily or only on certain occasions.
Even though many of the smokers who constitute this category would consider themselves better off than heavier smokers, they share many of the same ill health effects. For example, those who smoke intermittently share nearly the same risk of cardiovascular disease as those who smoke regularly. These same light smokers still receive roughly 70% of the negative consequences that heavy smokers experience, meaning that intermittent smoking really isn’t much safer than smoking heavily.
However, for both light and heavy smokers, quitting smoking can alleviate or eliminate entirely the many negative consequences of smoking. By quitting smoking for five years, a former smoker can reduce their risk of stroke to that of those who have never smoked. Ultimately, the many negative effects of smoking can’t be escaped, regardless of how little you smoke. However, that doesn’t mean quitting won’t significantly improve the odds of an increased lifespan.
The Effect of Smoking on the Body
The fact that over 7 million people die annually from smoking is proof enough that smoking cigarettes can have horrible effects on the human body. It is also extremely harmful to those around you that breathe in secondhand smoke, as 1.2 million people die annually from simply being exposed to the toxins.
Smoking cigarettes increases a person’s risk of stroke by two times and their risk of heart disease by four times. Even smoking one cigarette a day causes a person to be half as likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke as those who smoke a pack a day. Not only does smoking affect the heart, but it also makes you up to 22 times more likely to develop lung cancer. Two-thirds of lung cancer deaths are caused by tobacco smoking, totalling about 1.2 million deaths a year. Smoking can cause fertility issues, and if a woman smokes during pregnancy, it can cause many health conditions in the infant or fetus, as well as complications for the mother.
Smoking also makes the body generally more susceptible to disease, as it can prevent the immune system from functioning properly. This makes smokers even more likely to develop not only these smoking related conditions but others as well. 48.5% of 12 different types of cancer cases are attributed to smoking.
The worst part about these horrid statistics is that these deaths are preventable. By not smoking, former smokers can prevent many of these conditions from affecting them. Quitting smoking is the best decision a smoker can make for their future.