According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, smoking is the number one cause of preventable deaths in the US. They quantify this as almost 1 in every 5 deaths! The CDC’s figures for premature death linked to smoking are also really scary: “More than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the United States during its history.”
A statement from the American Lung Association highlights why cigarettes are so toxic: “Cigarettes contain about 600 ingredients… they generate more than 7,000 chemicals… Many of those chemicals are poisonous and at least 69 of them can cause cancer”.
That’s a serious amount of really nasty stuff going into our bodies each time we light up. But what organs and systems are impacted on? What exactly does smoking do to the human body?
The central nervous system
According to Healthline, nicotine reaches the brain within seconds and alters mood. This addictive chemical initially stimulates the central nervous system and makes one feel energized. But this is followed by feeling tired… and craving another ‘fix’ of nicotine. Without it, smokers feel irritable, anxious, and even depressed.
Smokers are 50% more likely to have a stroke because of the increased chance of developing an aneurism (a bulge in a blood vessel that results from a weakening or thinning in the vessel’s wall) in the brain. A ruptured aneurism causes a type of stroke known as a subarachnoid hemorrhage. These cause extensive damage, even death.
The respiratory system
The thousands of toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke have multiple negative effects of the lungs and other elements of the respiratory system. The main smoking-related problems are:
- Respiratory infections: The cilia, which are little hair-like structures in the lungs, are damaged by smoking and stop working. Their job is to clear mucus and other debris from the lungs and help to fight infections. When they can’t work properly or at all, our lungs can’t filter out harmful chemicals or clean themselves. As a result, smokers are far more vulnerable to coughs, colds, flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia. With chronic bronchitis the small tubes in the lungs become chronically inflamed
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD): This is a progressive and very debilitating group of lung diseases which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema. COPD causes significant difficulties breathing because lung tissue has been destroyed and the airways have narrowed. Suffers also have persistent phlegmy coughs and are extremely prone to frequent, often severe, respiratory infections.
- Lung cancer: Smoking is thought to be responsible for 84% of the deaths due to lung cancer in the US.
The cardiovascular system
The cardiovascular system consists of the heart and the entire network of arteries and veins that carry blood around the body. The American Heart Association gives details of the numerous ways in which this system is affected:
- The heart: Smoking increases blood pressure and puts great stress and strain on the heart which, over time, weakens it. A weak heart is less able to effectively pump blood to the rest of the body. In addition, the increase in carbon monoxide and decreased levels of oxygen caused by smoking increase the risk of heart disease and heart attacks.
- The arteries: Smoking increases the amount of cholesterol and other unhealthy fats in the blood. Over time, these fats build up on the walls of the arteries. This buildup, called atherosclerosis, causes the arteries to narrow or even become blocked. This restricts or stops normal blood flow to the heart, brain (cerebrovascular disease), and legs. Blocked blood flow to the heart or brain can cause a heart attack or stroke. Blockage in the blood vessels of the legs (peripheral vascular disease) could result in the amputation of toes or feet.
- The blood: Smoking causes the blood to thicken and become almost sticky. The thicker the blood, the harder the heart has to work to pump it. This kind of blood is far more likely to form clots that then block the blood flow to the heart, brain, and or legs. This can increase the risks for heart attacks, strokes, or medical problems in the legs and feet related to poor circulation. Smokers are also at greater risk of developing blood cancer (leukemia). Smoking also impacts on insulin and can lead to insulin resistance. This in turn puts smokers at increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Diabetics that smoke tend to develop complications faster than nonsmokers.
The integumentary system: skin and hair
The chemicals in cigarettes lead to a reduction in the amount of oxygen that reaches the skin. This causes the skin to lose its elasticity and therefore age more quickly. According to Why Quit, smoking ages the skin by between 10 and 20 years. Nicotine also stains smoker’s lips, fingers, finger nails, and hair.
Because nicotine reduces the supply of oxygen, minerals, and nutrients to the blood and therefore body tissue, smoker’s wounds take much longer to heal. This can lead to serious problems after surgery when slow healing can be complicated by infections.
Smoking can also lead to hair loss in both men and women because the hair follicles are deprived of growth-inducing minerals, vitamins, and oxygen because the blood is impoverished by smoking.
The digestive system
Smoking impacts on the entire digestive system, starting with areas in the head and neck. The least worrying affect of smoking is stained or yellow teeth. Smoking often causes gum inflammation (gingivitis) or infection (periodontitis). Gingivitis often leads to bad breath and periodontitis can result in tooth decay and loss. Smokers are also more prone to mouth ulcers and sores.
Smoking also greatly increases the risk of developing cancer of the lips, mouth, tongue, throat, larynx, and esophagus. Nerve endings on the tongue can be damaged which results in a loss or decrease in the ability to taste.
In terms of the stomach, smokers more often experience digestive problems such as indigestion, gastric reflux, and stomach ulcers. They are also more likely to develop stomach (and kidney) cancer.
The reproductive system and sexuality
Smoking decreases and restricts the circulation of blood. This affects men’s ability to get and maintain an erection and causes in reduction in sperm count and motility. Women are likely to loose sensitivity and their levels of arousal will decrease. Both men and woman who smoke are more likely to become infertile and have difficulty achieving orgasm.
Female smokers will have greater difficulty getting pregnant and are at increased risk of suffering a miscarriage. These women are also more prone to cervical cancer and, less worrying but not ideal, early menopause. Male smokers are more likely to get testicular cancer than their nonsmoking counterparts.
Babies born to smokers may be premature, underweight even at full term, suffer from birth defects, and are more susceptible to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
The skeletal and muscular system
Chemicals and toxins in cigarette disrupt bone health cycles and the body is less able to generate new, healthy bone tissue. Furthermore, smoking breaks down existing bone tissue. This leads to a thinning of the bone tissue which results in a loss of bone density (osteoporosis). Bones then become weak and brittle and far more likely to break. Smoker’s broken bones also take longer to heal.
The low levels of oxygen in the blood and reduced circulation also mean that smoker’s muscles become tired far more quickly.
The immune system
The tar and other substances in cigarettes reduce the effectiveness of the immune system. This makes smokers less able to fight off infections. Long-term, this weakening of the immune system means smokers are more vulnerable to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and even some cancers.
The eyes and ears
Smoking causes changes in the eyes that pose a threat to eyesight. Firstly, nicotine restricts the production of a chemical that allows us to see at night. Secondly, smokers have a higher risk of cataracts. Thanks to the decreased and restricted circulation of blood there is also an increased risk of macular degeneration—caused by poor blood flow to the retina—which can lead to blindness.
Smoking can increase your risk for cataracts (clouded lenses) and age-related macular degeneration (damage to an area near the center of the retina that is necessary for central vision). Both of these conditions can lead to blindness.
Smoking adversely affects the entire body, from the hairs on our heads to the tips of our toes. At best these effects reduce the quality of life. At worst they are life-threatening and all too often fatal.[/fusion_text]