What does smoking do to your body?

A look at possible harmful effects of smoking on your body

Smoking can have many bad effects on the body, some of which can lead to life-threatening complications.  It significantly increases the risk of dying from all causes, not just those linked to tobacco use. Every year, smoking causes 1 out of 5 deaths in the US, according to the estimate of the American Cancer Society. 

Smoking affects the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the reproductive system, the skin, and the eyes, and it increases the risk of many different cancers. 

Given that smoking causes so much serious damage to the body, it’s important to take a look at possible effects of smoking, for a better understanding of what it does to your body.

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Lung damage

Smoking cigarettes affects lung health because a person breathes in, not only nicotine, but also a variety of additional chemicals.  Cigarettes are responsible for a substantial increase in the risk of developing lung cancer, which is 25 times greater for men and 25.7 times greater for women.  The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that roughly 9 out of 10 lung cancer deaths are linked to smoking

Smoking cigarettes also presents a greater risk of developing and dying from a long-term lung disease that causes blocked airflow from the lungs, called chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). According to an American Lung Association report, smoking causes 80 percent of COPD deaths.

Cigarettes are also linked to developing a shortness of breath (emphysema) and long-term infection of the main airways of the lungs or bronchi, causing them to become irritated and inflamed (chronic bronchitis). They can also trigger or worsen an asthma attack.

 

Heart disease

Smoking cigarettes can damage the heart, blood vessels, and blood cells.

The chemicals and tar in cigarettes can increase a person's risk of a build-up of plaque in the blood vessels (atherosclerosis). This build-up limits blood flow and can lead to dangerous blockages.

Smoking also increases the risk of narrowing of the arteries to the arms and legs, restricting blood flow, a condition known as peripheral artery disease (PAD). Research shows a direct link between smoking and developing PAD. Even those who used to smoke face a higher risk than people who never smoked.

Having PAD increases the risk of experiencing the following conditions:

  • blood clots
  • angina, or chest pain
  • a stroke
  • a heart attack

 

Fertility problems

Smoking cigarettes can damage a female's reproductive system and make it more difficult for some females to get pregnant. This may be because tobacco and the other chemicals in cigarettes affect hormone levels.

In males, the more cigarettes a person smokes and the longer they smoke for, the higher the risk of erectile dysfunction. Smoking can also affect the quality of the sperm and therefore reduce fertility.

 

Risk of pregnancy complications

According to the CDC, smoking can affect pregnancy and the developing fetus in several ways, including:

  • increasing the risk of ectopic pregnancy
  • reducing the baby's birth weight
  • increasing the risk of preterm delivery
  • damaging the fetus's lungs, brain, and central nervous system
  • increasing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome
  • contributing to congenital abnormalities, such as cleft lip or cleft palate

 

Risk of type 2 diabetes

The CDC report that people who smoke regularly have a 30–40 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who do not.  Smoking can also make it more difficult for people with diabetes to manage their condition.

 

Weakened immune system

Smoking cigarettes can weaken a person's immune system, making them more susceptible to illness.  It can also cause additional infection in the body.

 

Vision problems

Smoking cigarettes can cause eye problems, including a greater risk of developing cloudy patches on the lens or a small transparent disc inside your eye (cataracts) and a common condition that affects the middle part of your vision, called age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

Other vision problems related to smoking include:

  • dry eyes
  • glaucoma (a common eye condition where the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, becomes damaged and gets worse over time)
  • diabetic retinopathy (a complication of diabetes, caused by high blood sugar levels damaging the back of the eye or retina)

 

Poor oral hygiene

People who smoke have double the risk of gum disease. This risk increases with the number of cigarettes a person smokes.

Symptoms of gum disease include:

  • swollen and tender gums
  • bleeding when brushing
  • loose teeth
  • sensitive teeth

Smoking tobacco can limit a person's ability to taste and smell things properly. It can also stain the teeth yellow or brown.

 

Unhealthy skin and hair

Smoking tobacco can affect a person's skin and hair. A person who smokes may experience prematurely aged, wrinkled skin. They also have a higher risk of skin cancer, "especially on the lips."

Smoking can cause the hair and skin to smell of tobacco. It can also contribute to hair loss and balding.

 

Risk of other cancers

In addition to the well-documented link with lung cancer, smoking cigarettes can also contribute to other forms of cancer.  The American Cancer Society reported that cigarette smoking causes 20–30 percent of pancreatic cancers. People who smoke are also three times as likely to develop bladder cancer than people who do not. Smoking cigarettes can also double a person's risk of stomach cancer. Tobacco is especially linked to stomach cancers that occur near the esophagus (tube connecting the throat or pharynx with the stomach).

Cigarettes can also increase the risk of other forms of cancer, including:

  • mouth cancer
  • laryngeal cancer
  • throat cancer
  • esophageal cancer
  • kidney cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • liver cancer
  • colon cancer
  • acute myeloid leukemia

 

Secondhand smoke

The negative effects of smoking cigarettes do not only affect people who smoke. Secondhand smoke can also have significant health effects on family members, friends, and coworkers, who do not smoke themselves.

The effects of exposure to secondhand smoke include:

  • increasing the risk of colds and ear infections
  • making asthma worse
  • raising blood pressure
  • damaging the heart
  • reducing levels of high-density lipoprotein, or "good," cholesterol

You will need the support of your close friends and family, should you decide to quit smoking and chances are that they will be thrilled for you if you decide to quit smoking.  So, quitting smoking is a wise decision all-round, not only for your own health, but also the health of your close friends and family, the support of whom you will rely if you decide to quit smoking. 

 

Quitting

While quitting smoking can be challenging, there are more people who used to smoke than those who currently smoke.  You’re likely to succeed if you take the right steps to prepare yourself.

Once you stop smoking, the benefits are almost instant and start accumulating, as your body begins to heal in as little as 20 minutes after the last cigarette is smoked. These benefits include clearer skin, improved oral health, more stable hormones, a stronger immune system, and a reduced risk of many types of cancers.

Your doctor or other healthcare professional can help you take positive steps toward quitting smoking, if you’re thinking about quitting. 

In addition, you may check with your local hospital to see if they offer a program; or call any of the national quit-smoking lines, such as the National Cancer Institute (NCI).  They offer support over the phone and can help with different ways of quitting. Here are their contact details, including toll-free number:

 

References

  1. healthline, How to Quit Smoking Cold Turkey, [website] 2019, https://www.healthline.com/health/quit-smoking-cold-turkey, (accessed October 31, 2019).
  2. healthline, The Effects of Smoking on the Body, [website] 2017, https://www.healthline.com/health/smoking/effects-on-body#1, (accessed October 31, 2019).
  3. NCISmokefree, Health Effects, [website] 2019, https://smokefree.gov/quit-smoking/why-you-should-quit/health-effects, (accessed October 31, 2019).
  4. MEDICALNEWSTODAY, How does smoking affect the body? [website] 2019, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324644.php#quitting, (accessed November 1, 2019).
  5. CDC, Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking, [website] 2018, https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/index.htm, (accessed November 1, 2019).
  6. CDC, SMOKING AND REPRODUCTION, [fact sheet] 2014, https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/sgr/50th-anniversary/pdfs/fs_smoking_reproduction_508.pdf, (accessed November 1, 2019).
  7. WebMD, 9 Body Parts You Can Damage by Smoking, [website] 2019, https://www.webmd.com/smoking-cessation/stop-smoking-16/decision-to-quit/slideshow-smoking-body, (accessed November 1, 2019).
  8. AHA, How Smoking and Nicotine Damage Your Body, [website] 2015, https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-lifestyle/quit-smoking-tobacco/how-smoking-and-nicotine-damage-your-body, (accessed November 1, 2019).

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