10 Major Dangers of Smoking & How You Can Quit

Smoking cigarettes cause both short and long-term effects for smokers and those around them. Here are 10 major dangers of smoking and how it can affect your body and others.

by Katherine Khaw

Smoking has become a common activity in public spaces. Despite the dangers of indulging in this activity, many continue to pursue it in their pastime or as a way to release stress. 

Cigarette smoking uses tobacco. The World Health Organization (WHO) have stated that on an overall basis, the tobacco epidemic is a giant public health threat worldwide, causing more than 8 million deaths a year. In fact, tobacco usage kills up to half of its users and there is no safe level of exposure to this product.

Exposure to smoke from tobacco can be put into three categories:

  • First-hand smoking – inhaled by the person who is smoking
  • Second-hand smoking – smoke that is exhaled or the smoke that comes from the end of a burning cigarette
  • Third-hand smoking – residue left on clothes, cars or in a room after someone smokes

In relation to consumption, people who smoke five cigarettes a day are doing almost as much damage to their body as people who smoke 30 cigarettes a day. It is simply a matter of time before the debilitating effects manifest.

As such, this article will expose the dangers of smoking. After which, we will learn how you can quit the habit.

Lung Damage

Smoking is the leading cause of the majority of lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Lung function declines with age, but smoking will accelerate the process as cigarette smoke contains a deadly mix of over 7,000 chemicals. Breathing this in, the smoke is dispersed in your body via the blood. As tobacco smoke has carbon monoxide, this would deprive your body of oxygen. This gas reduces and can eliminate the oxygen in your blood. The damage varies: aside from lung cancer and COPD, the affected person may develop smaller, weaker lungs or develop a smoker’s cough. Asthma is also a possible effect in the long run.

Stroke

Smoking increases a person’s risk of stroke as it increases blood pressure. The reduction of oxygen also plays a role in this since a stroke occurs when there is a blood clot in the vessel or when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. In addition, smoking also makes your blood ‘stickier’, which increases the chances of developing blood clots.

Heart Disease

As smoking incurs increased formation of plaque in blood vessels, heart disease is more likely to happen. This is due to the arteries that carry blood to the heart muscle have been narrowed. Blockage from clots can lead to a heart attack and unexpected death.

Fertility Issues

Smoking does not only affect the individual but the ability to have a child. Fertility issues occur in both men and women, such as erectile dysfunction and pregnancy complications. Pregnancy complications such as miscarriage, ectopic pregnancies and preterm labour are more likely to occur. Eggs and sperms will also be lost at an increased rate, along with decreased quality with lower counts and motility. Fertility treatments like IVF may not be able to overcome the effects of smoking on fertility.

Weakened Immune System

The body’s immune system is endangered by prolonged smoking. This activity comprises the balance of the immune system. Of which, the risk for immune and autoimmune disorders is increased (that is, the immune system mistakenly attacks the body’s healthy cells and tissues)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2014)’s study, the following diseases can be worsened by smoking:

  • Viral and bacterial infections, especially of the lungs (for example, pneumonia, influenza, tuberculosis);
  • Periodontal or gum disease;
  • Bacterial meningitis (a disease that attacks the protective membranes covering the brain and spinal cord);
  • Infections that occur after surgery;
  • Rheumatoid arthritis;
  • Crohn’s disease (a serious disease of the digestive system); and
  • Cancer

Vision Problems

Smoking impacts eye health and vision. Toxins in cigarette smoke irritate your eyes and cause cerebral lesions in the brain that processes vision. In fact, addiction to tobacco drastically augments the risk of developing eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), cataracts, glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy. These conditions are best prevented than contracted as they do not have permanent cures. Treatments are only able to stop or slow the progression

Poor Oral Hygiene

Aside from that, people who smoke double their chances of getting gum disease. Symptoms of gum disease may vary from the following: swollen and tender gums, bleeding when brushing and loose or sensitive teeth. Indulging in this activity can inhibit a person’s sense of taste and smell. It may also stain the teeth into a dirty yellow or brown.

Unhealthy Skin and Hair

Smoking also affects the person’s skin and hair. Some smokers may appear pale or develop uneven colouring on the skin, as smoking deprives the skin of oxygen and nutrients. Consequences such as sagging and wrinkling skin are also sped up, along with lines around the lips. In addition to smelling like tobacco, hair loss and balding are incidents related to smoking

Diabetes

Smoking increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. This is due to the nicotine property in cigarettes that change cells, in which they do not respond to insulin. When insulin is unable to help blood sugar to enter cells, this would increase blood sugar levels on an overall basis. Your cells may also be inflamed due to the harmful chemicals in cigarettes. Upon being diagnosed with diabetes, other issues such as kidney disease, poor blood flow and nerve damage may follow suit.

Gangrene

Following up on poor blood flow and possible diabetes incurred by smoking, the individual is also at risk of gangrene. It happens when one’s body is decomposing. The constriction of blood vessels and insufficient blood supply, in serious situations, lead to gangrene. While early intervention might be possible, otherwise the person is likely to have a body part amputated to save their life.

Difference Between Men and Women

While the damages caused by smoking will affect both men and women, there are some gender differences in tobacco smoking. In a research report compiled by National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (2021), men are likely to use the products at a higher rate compared to women.

Moreover, the following differences were noted:

  • Neuroimaging studies suggest that smoking activates men’s reward pathways more than women’s. This implies that men may smoke for the reinforcing effects of nicotine, while women smoke to regulate mood.
  • Interestingly, women obtained similar relief from cigarettes, with or without nicotine.
  • Research suggested that women experience stronger cravings than men for cigarettes during stress, whereas men may be responsive to environmental cues.
  • Women were less likely to quit successfully, in view of possible post-cessation weight gain.

Tips To Quit Smoking

Having established that smoking is dangerous and detrimental to one’s health, it is important to avoid smoking first-hand altogether. The effects of second-hand and third-hand smoking are also harmful, but these may not be avoidable at all times.

In the case that you are currently smoking, but wish to quit, here are some tips on how to overcome the habit for good.

Having A Strong Resolve

To quit, it is important to have a motivating factor. Whether it is to protect your family’s health from second-hand smoke or desiring to be healthier in body, it needs to be a reason powerful enough to help you when you find yourself reaching to light up a piece.

Be Accountable

As smoking is an addiction, quitting may result in painful withdrawals. Get in touch with a doctor and/or a therapist in advance so that you are not crushed by the difficult journey. In addition, it would be helpful if you could lean on your family and friends regarding this decision so that they can keep you accountable. Otherwise, support groups are often available as well.

Nicotine Replacement Therapy

A smoker trying to quit often suffers from withdrawal symptoms due to nicotine, the main addictive substance in cigarettes. As a temporary measure, the use of nicotine gum, lozenges and patches can help the individual to transition into quitting the habit altogether. However, this therapy deals with the physical dependence on the product and not on the emotional and mental aspect of quitting.

Having A Break

Aside from being an addictive substance, nicotine in cigarettes creates a sense of relaxation. After quitting the habit, you would need to find new ways to destress. Steer clear from having too much idle time on your own by connecting with friends, making time for a new hobby, and more. Exercise can also be an effective method of relaxing.

Cleaning Up

Remove traces of anything related to smoking, be it the cigarette packets, ashtrays, lighters and other means. It is vital to clean up the scent of smoke on your household items and apparel. Not only that, clean up your diet by eating more fruits and vegetables.

A person who quits smoking will see benefits immediately, as soon as after 20 minutes – 12 hours. Your body begins to heal itself, such as the drop in heart rate and blood pressure. Carbon monoxide levels also drop to normal. The risks of heart attack are lowered, along with coughing and respiratory problems.

Seek the help you need today for your health and the people around you. It is not too late to begin.

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References

Alberta Health Services (2019). Second-Hand and Third-Hand Smoke and Vapour [Article]. Retrieved 7 June 2022, from https://myhealth.alberta.ca/Alberta/Pages/Second-Hand-and-Third-Hand-Smoke-and-Vapour.aspx .

American Society for Reproductive Medicine (2014). Smoking and Infertility [Article]. Retrieved 8 June 2022, from https://www.reproductivefacts.org/globalassets/rf/news-and-publications/bookletsfact-sheets/english-fact-sheets-and-info-booklets/smoking_and_infertility_factsheet.pdf .

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (2014). Smoking and Overall Health [Article]. Retrieved 8 June 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/50th-anniversary/pdfs/fs_smoking_overall_health_508.pdf .

Dresden, D. (2019). How does smoking affect the body? [Article]. Retrieved 8 June 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324644 .

FDA (2020). Keep Your Air Clear: How Tobacco Can Harm Your Lungs [Article]. Retrieved 7 June 2022, from https://www.fda.gov/tobacco-products/health-effects-tobacco-use/keep-your-air-clear-how-tobacco-can-harm-your-lungs .

John Hopkins Medicine (2022). Smoking and Respiratory Diseases [Article]. Retrieved 7 June 2022, from https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/smoking-and-respiratory-diseases .

Lazarus, R. (2021). Does Smoking Affect the Eyes? [Website]. Retrieved 8 June 2022, from https://www.optometrists.org/general-practice-optometry/guide-to-eye-health/does-smoking-affect-the-eyes/ .

National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) (2021). Are there gender differences in tobacco smoking? [Article]. Retrieved 8 June 2022, from https://nida.nih.gov/publications/research-reports/tobacco-nicotine-e-cigarettes/are-there-gender-differences-in-tobacco-smoking .

Pratt, Elizabeth (2019). ‘Social’ Smoking Does Almost as Much Damage to Your Lungs as ‘Heavy’ Smoking [Article]. Retrieved 7 June 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health-news/smoking-5-cigarettes-a-day-isnt-much-better-than-smoking-2-packs .

Quit (2022). Smokes can lead to strokes [Article]. Retrieved 7 June 2022, from https://www.quit.org.au/articles/smokesleadtostrokes/ .

Robinson, J. (2021). 13 Best Quit-Smoking Tips Ever [Website]. Retrieved 9 June 2022, from https://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/ss/slideshow-13-best-quit-smoking-tips-ever .

World Health Organization (WHO) (2022). Tobacco [Website]. Retrieved 7 June 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/tobacco

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About the Writer
Katherine Khaw
Katherine is an avid reader, finding joy in halls of words. Aside from the imagination wandering in worlds not here, she enjoys stargazing and gardening. In her heart of hearts, she aspires to be a writer, and to be more than mere dust.
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