The negative effects of smoking
Smoking is the most common cause of preventable death. According to the NHS, in the UK alone 76,000 people die each year from smoking-related causes. In addition to this hundreds of thousands of people live in poor health due to the damage that smoking causes.
Smoking and life expectancy
It is thought that on average smoking reduces life expectancy by around 10 years. Once you have reached the age of 40, each additional year that you smoke reduces your life expectancy by another 3 months.
Whilst there are many different diseases that are linked or made worse by smoking, such as asthma, most deaths are caused by 3 main conditions. These being lung cancer, coronary obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cardiovascular disease.
Smoking and cancer
Cigarette smoke contains thousands of chemicals and compounds, of these at least 60 are known to cause cancer. Smoking is by far the greatest avoidable risk for developing many types of cancer including:
Smoking is by far the leading cause of lung cancer. When smoke is inhaled, it introduces a mixture of harmful chemicals directly into the lungs. These chemicals can damage the cells that line the airways and the lung tissue itself. Over time, this damage can lead to the development of cancerous cells. Lung cancer is particularly dangerous because it often remains undetected until it has reached an advanced stage.
Throat and Mouth Cancer:
Smoking is strongly linked to cancers of the throat (pharynx) and mouth (oral cavity). The chemicals in tobacco smoke can irritate and damage the tissues in these areas, leading to the growth of cancerous cells. Additionally, smokeless tobacco products, like chewing tobacco and snuff, are associated with oral cancer due to prolonged contact with the tissues.
The oesophagus, the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach, can also be affected by smoking. The chemicals in smoke can cause changes in the cells lining the oesophagus, which can progress to cancer. Smoking increases the risk of both types of oesophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma.
Smoking is a major risk factor for bladder cancer. The harmful substances in smoke are absorbed into the bloodstream, and the chemicals are filtered by the kidneys and excreted in the urine. This means that the bladder is exposed to these harmful substances repeatedly, increasing the risk of cancerous growth.
Smoking is associated with an increased risk of kidney cancer, particularly renal cell carcinoma. The exact mechanisms by which smoking contributes to kidney cancer are not fully understood, but it’s believed that the chemicals in tobacco smoke may play a role in damaging the kidneys and promoting the growth of cancerous cells.
Smoking is a well-established risk factor for pancreatic cancer. The chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage the pancreas and its cells, potentially leading to the development of cancer. Pancreatic cancer is often aggressive and has a high mortality rate.
Smoking is linked to an increased risk of cervical cancer in women. The harmful substances in tobacco smoke can weaken the immune system’s ability to clear the human papillomavirus (HPV), a major risk factor for cervical cancer. This can increase the likelihood of HPV infection progressing to cervical cancer.
Smoking and your heart and circulation
Smoking significantly jeopardises heart and circulatory health by increasing the risk of coronary artery disease, elevating blood pressure, reducing oxygen supply, promoting blood clot formation, worsening cholesterol levels, impairing endothelial function, fostering irregular heart rhythms, weakening the heart muscle, and enhancing the likelihood of peripheral artery disease.
There is no safe level of smoking. Even one cigarette a day will increase your risk of getting problems with your heart or circulation.
- If you smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day, your risk of stroke can be up to 6 times than that of a non-smoker.
- If your under 50 and smoke, you maybe 5 times more likely to have a heart attack as opposed to a non-smoker.
Smoking and your lungs and breathing
If you regularly smoke, your airways and lungs will be damaged. Some of the negative effects include:
Lung Function Decline:
Smoking irritates and inflames the airways, causing them to narrow and leading to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Over time, lung tissue becomes scarred and less elastic, making it harder to breathe and reducing lung capacity.
Smoking leads to chronic bronchitis, characterized by persistent coughing and increased production of mucus. The airways become inflamed and narrowed, making it difficult to move air in and out of the lungs, resulting in symptoms such as wheezing and shortness of breath.
Smoking is a leading cause of emphysema, a condition where the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs are damaged and lose their elasticity. This reduces the efficiency of oxygen exchange, leading to breathlessness, particularly during physical activity.
Reduced Lung Function:
Smoking reduces the ability of the lungs to expand and contract properly, limiting the amount of air that can be inhaled and exhaled. This reduction in lung function contributes to a sensation of breathlessness.
Risk of Respiratory Infections:
Smoking weakens the immune system in the respiratory tract, making individuals more susceptible to infections like pneumonia, bronchitis, and even the common cold.
Smoking worsens asthma symptoms and decreases the effectiveness of medications in managing the condition. It can trigger asthma attacks and make the condition more difficult to control.
Reduced Exercise Tolerance:
Smoking decreases the amount of oxygen available to the muscles during physical activity, leading to decreased endurance and exercise tolerance.
Smoking and your appearance
In addition to being harmful to your physical health smoking can also negatively affect your appearance in both the short and long term. For many these negative affects are often the driving force behind them wanting to give up smoking.
Smoking accelerates the aging process, leading to premature development of wrinkles, fine lines, and sagging skin. The chemicals in tobacco smoke damage collagen and elastin fibres, which are responsible for skin’s elasticity and firmness.
Smoking can lead to a dull and uneven complexion. Reduced blood flow to the skin caused by constricted blood vessels can result in a lack of healthy skin colour and vitality.
Yellowing of Teeth:
Smoking stains teeth over time, causing them to turn yellow or even brown. This discoloration can be difficult to reverse and may require professional dental treatments to restore teeth to their natural colour.
Holding and smoking cigarettes can stain fingers and nails, giving them a yellowish tint that’s hard to remove.
Smoking is associated with hair loss and thinning, particularly in men. Reduced blood flow to the hair follicles and damage to hair protein structure can contribute to this effect.
Dark Circles and Bags Under the Eyes:
Smoking can contribute to the appearance of dark circles and bags under the eyes due to its impact on blood circulation and skin health.
Smoking can make nails brittle and more prone to breakage. The staining effect on nails can also be a cosmetic concern.
Smoking and fertility
Smoking significantly impairs fertility for both men and women. In women, smoking disrupts menstrual cycles, lowers egg quality, damages fallopian tubes, and reduces the chances of successful implantation.
It can lead to early menopause and heightens the risk of miscarriages due to compromised egg health. For men, smoking decreases sperm count, motility, and shape, along with causing DNA damage to sperm. Erectile dysfunction and hormonal imbalances further hinder male fertility.
The benefits of stopping smoking
The earlier you quit smoking then the more you will benefit. According to the NHS it’s never too late, because quitting smoking will improve your health no matter your age, how long you smoked for or how many cigarettes you have smoked in your life.
Better physical health
Every time you smoke a cigarette your body is flooded with dangerous chemicals and compounds many of which are poisonous.
The very day that you decide to quit, your body starts to repair itself by clearing itself of the toxins it has built up.
Within a few days and weeks you will start to notice some significant benefits. Your sense of smell and taste improve, you will start to breathe more easily and you will have more energy.
As time moves on you will notice other benefits too. Better blood circulation will mean that physical activity will become easier. Improved lung function will also mean that you will experience a reduction in coughs, wheezing and other breathing problems.
Reduced risk of smoking related diseases
Your longer-term risks of cancer, lung disease, heart disease and stroke will be significantly reduced.
- After 1 year, risk of heart attack halves compared to that of a smoker.
- After 5 years, risk of stroke is that of a person who has never smoked.
- After 10 years, risk of death from lung cancer falls to half that of a smoker.
- After 15 years, risk of heart attack falls to the same as someone who has never smoked.
Improved mental health
A vast majority of smokers falsely believe that smoking reduces stress. In fact the opposite is true. Smoking causes serotonin levels in your body to be depleted. As a result long term smokers are far more likely to be anxious and are more prone to developing mental health conditions such as depression.
People who stop smoking have increased happiness over those that continue to smoke and deplete their levels positive neurotransmitters including serotonin.
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