In the United States, smoking causes one out of every five deaths each year. Thats more than those caused by HIV , substance abuse, auto accidents, suicides, and murders combined. Smokers may work a lifetime only to see their retirement literally go up in smoketaking 13 to 15 years off their lifespan.
Now it appears that even light smokers dont escape unscathed: Norwegian researchers have found that smoking one to four cigarettes a day nearly triples the risk of dying from lung cancer or heart disease. Furthermore, smoking greatly increases the risk of dying from all causes. How does smoking have such a lethal impact? Take a look at the ways cigarettes attack the body and youll have a better idea. Smoking not only cuts lives short, but greatly decreases quality of life as well.
Most cigarettes contain around 4,000 chemicals, including human-friendly ones like cyanide and formaldehyde. Sixty of these chemicals are known to cause cancer. Its little surprise, then, that smoking accounts for almost one-third of all cancer deaths in the United States. The list of smoking-related cancers keeps growing, and includes:
Heart and Blood Vessels
Blood carries cigarette poisons throughout the circulatory system. Among other effects, these poisons damage and narrow blood vessels, increasing the heart rate while decreasing the flow of oxygen to the rest of the body. These are a few of the cardiovascular conditions smoking contributes to:
Atherosclerosis a disease causing fatty deposits in arteries
High blood pressure increased pressure in the blood vessels
Heart attack damage or death of heart muscle from lack of blood flow
Congestive heart failure ineffective pumping by the heart
Peripheral vascular disease narrowing of vessels in the legs
Abdominal aortic aneurysm a bulge in the wall of the aorta
Chemicals in cigarettes irritate air passages and lungs. They slowand eventually stopthe cleansing action in the lungs, so poisons can remain there. Lungs become vulnerable to problems like these:
Coughing , colds , sore throats , pneumonia
Asthma airways become inflamed
Chronic bronchitis airways produce extra mucus
Emphysema walls between air sacs break down, slowly destroying the ability to breathe
Lung cancer uncontrolled growth of lung cells that invade normal tissues
Bones, Joints, and Muscles
By reducing blood supply, smoking weakens both muscles and bones. It also slows the production of bone-forming cells and keeps your body from absorbing calcium. Here are some of the effects:
Increased risk for bone fractures, which also take longer to heal.
Higher complication rate after surgeries.
Increased risk of overuse injuries, such as bursitis ; greater chance of sprains .
Negative impact on sports performanceslower pace and shortness of breath.
Association with low back pain and rheumatoid arthritis a progressive disease causing swelling in joints.
Smoking hurts the digestive system, which means the body doesnt get the nutrients it needs. Smoking does this by:
Injuring the esophagus, allowing stomach acids to flow back (called heartburn ) into the esophagus, and by making stomach acids more harmful.
Increasing acidity, increasing the risk for an infection that leads to open sores in the stomach or small intestine (called peptic ulcers ).
Leading to inflammation in the lining of the intestine (called Crohns disease ).
Changing the way the liver handles drugs and alcohol.
Smokers notice the change in their brains almost the minute they light up. Smoking quickly changes brain chemistry, affecting mood and often leading to addiction. Brain chemistry changes, as well as decreased blood flow, increase the risk for:
Stroke double that of nonsmokers
Dementia and Alzheimers disease
Depression , especially in women
Need to hear more? A five-year study found that smokers had twice the risk of developing the most common type of diabetes . These are a few of smokings other effects:
Reduced sense of smell and taste
Premature skin aging from reduced blood flow and vitamins
Increased risk for gum disease
Increased risk for cloudy lens in the eye (called cataract )a leading cause of blindness
Increased risk for impotence , infertility , and problems during pregnancy and delivery
In babies of smoking mothersincreased risk for low birth weight, reduced lung function, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Menopause at an earlier age; increased number of menopausal symptoms
And Now for the Good News. . .
The benefits of quitting begin almost immediately. Heart rate drops within minutes. Circulation and breathing improve within months. And, among other improvements, your risk of stroke is the same as a nonsmoker after five years. Although its best to quit when youre younger, you can benefit at any age.
by Annie Stuart
American Cancer Society
American Lung Association
National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion
National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC)
Bjartveit K and Tverdal A. Health consequences of smoking 14 cigarettes per day. Tobacco Control . 2005;14:315-320.
Even light smokers risk disease and death. MedlinePlus website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_27058.html . Accessed September 30, 2005.
Questions about smoking, tobacco, and health: is there a safe way to smoke? American Cancer Society website. Available at: http://www.cancer.org/docroot/PED/content/PED_10_2x_Questions_About_Smoking_Tobacco_and_Health.asp . Accessed September 30, 2005.
Smoking among older adults fact sheet. American Lung Association website. Available at: http://www.lungusa.org/site/pp.asp?c=dvLUK9O0E&b=39862 . Accessed September 30, 2005.
Smoking and musculoskeletal health. American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons website. Available at: http://orthoinfo.aaos.org/fact/thr_report.cfm?Thread_ID=240&topcategory=Wellness . Accessed September 30, 2005.
Smoking and your digestive system. National Digestive Diseases Information Clearinghouse (NDDIC) website. Available at: http://digestive.niddk.nih.gov/ddiseases/pubs/smoking/index.htm . Accessed September 30, 2005.
Smoking: how does it cause wrinkles? Mayo Clinic website. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/invoke.cfm?id=AN00644 . Accessed September 30, 2005.
Study establishes link between smoking and diabetes. MedlinePlus website. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/news/fullstory_27142.html . Accessed September 30, 2005.
Women and smoking: a report of the surgeon general2001. CDC website. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/sgr/sgr_forwomen/ataglance.htm . Accessed September 30, 2005.
Last reviewed October 2005 by Jill Landis, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.