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Smoking is bad for your health. It negatively affects almost all the organs in your body and can lead to serious health conditions down the line.
Currently, there are more than one billion smokers1 in the world, 37% of men and 8% of women. Low- and middle-income countries2 comprise more than 80% of the world’s smokers. Amongst those aged 13–15, 24 million are estimated to smoke while 13 million use smokeless tobacco products.
Clearly, smoking is a persistent and worrying problem. But, just how bad is smoking for your respiratory health and health in general? And how can you successfully quit this detrimental habit? Read on to learn more.
These numbers are truly alarming. Smoking has also been found to dramatically increase the risk of death if you have an underlying disease. Despite the evident health risks associated with smoking, many people still smoke. Let’s look at how exactly smoking affects the body.
Smoking negatively affects almost every organ in the body. It not only impairs function but also tears down the body’s defenses and makes you more susceptible to a host of diseases. Here are just some of the ways smoking is detrimental to your health.
Smoking has been found to cause stroke and coronary heart disease5. Even if you smoke less than five cigarettes a day, you may already develop early signs of cardiovascular disease. Smoking damages blood vessels by causing them to thicken. When this happens, the passageway where blood flows becomes narrow. This makes your heart beat faster and causes an increase in blood pressure. These conditions are conducive for blood clots to form. If a clot blocks blood flow to your brain or if a vessel in the brain bursts due to the blockage, a stroke can occur.
Smoking damages the airways and the lining of your lungs6, which is why smokers cough frequently. This leads to conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, and bronchitis. Death from COPD is 12 to 13 times more likely in smokers compared to non-smokers. Smoking can trigger or worsen asthma attacks. Finally, lung cancer is most commonly caused by smoking.7
Smoking can cause cancer almost anywhere in your body.8 It can affect your bladder, blood, cervix, colon and rectum, esophagus, kidneys, liver, larynx, pancreas, stomach, and, of course, your lungs. One out of every three cancer deaths in the U.S. could be prevented if only nobody smoked.
Smoking can negatively affect a person’s reproductive status.9 Smokers find it more difficult to conceive. The risk of preterm delivery, low birth weight, stillbirth, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and ectopic pregnancy also increases with smoking. Even if only the male parent smokes, there is an increased risk of birth defects and miscarriage. Male smokers can have reduced fertility and erectile dysfunction.10 .
Smoking also negatively impacts other organ systems11. Female smokers who are past their child-bearing years have been found to have weaker bones more prone to fractures than non-smokers. Tobacco affects tooth and gum health, leading to tooth loss. You are also more likely to develop cataracts if you smoke. If you have type 2 diabetes, smoking can make this condition more difficult to control or lead to you developing it in the first place: smokers are 30–40% more likely to develop diabetes. Lastly, smoking can cause rheumatoid arthritis.
Evidently, smoking has deleterious effects on the body. It causes and worsens disease and smoking also dramatically increases the likelihood of death.
Knowing these health risks, it might be time to consider quitting smoking. What happens to your body when you choose to quit?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have found that people see numerous health benefits once they choose to quit.12 Over time, positive changes in the body build up and continue.
|Time After Quitting||Health Benefits|
|Minutes||Heart rate drops|
|24 hours||Nicotine level in the blood drops to zero|
|Several days||Carbon monoxide level in the blood drops to that of a non-smoker|
|1 to 12 months||Coughing and shortness of breath decrease|
|1 to 2 years||Risk of heart attack drops sharply|
|3 to 6 years||Added risk of coronary heart disease drops by half|
|5 to 10 years||Added risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, and larynx drop by half|
|Added risk of lung cancer drops by half after 10-15 years|
Risk of cancers of the bladder, esophagus, and kidney decreases
|15 years||Risk of coronary heart disease drops close to that of non-smoker|
|20 years||Risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, and larynx drops to close to non-smoker|
Risk of pancreatic cancer drops close to non-smoker
Added risk of cervical cancer drops by half
The best decision you can make for your health is to quit smoking. Regardless of age or how long you have been smoking, you will be able to enjoy these health benefits14 once you decide to quit the habit:
Although most smokers know that smoking is bad for their health, actually quitting the habit is not as easy. Some people may have tried to quit before but were not successful for a number of reasons.
Fortunately, there are numerous resources available to help you successfully ditch the habit. The American Lung Association15 has the following suggestions to help set you up for success:
When building a new habit (or breaking old ones), your mindset matters. Understanding your motivations and tempering expectations will definitely help keep you on track as you go through the process of quitting smoking.
Any process that requires change can wear you down. Tobacco cravings or the urge to smoke can be strong and difficult to resist.
Thankfully, these urges will probably pass in 5-10 minutes even if you choose not to give in. Everytime you deny the temptation, you take one step towards better health.
Here are some tips to curb cravings and quit smoking for good16:
There are numerous options to work around cigarette smoking. Nicotine replacements may come in the form of nasal sprays, inhalers, patches, gums, lozenges, and even certain medications. Consult your doctor to determine the best replacement for you.
The urge to smoke can be triggered by certain places, situations, and stressors. It is important to identify your triggers and come up with a plan to avoid them or work through them. By doing this, you are effectively modifying your environment to increase your chances of success.
Psychotherapies19, such as cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) and mindfulness, can help deal with triggers and help with your smoke-free journey.
Give yourself 10 minutes to let the tobacco urges pass. Distracting yourself by taking a walk in a smoke-free zone or engaging in another task may help curb the urge to smoke.
Instead of smoking, chew on gum or suck on hard candies. You can also opt for healthier alternatives like carrots, nuts, or sunflower seeds, or other crunchy food. Additionally, toothpicks and cinnamon sticks can be brought to your mouth and chewed on for a similar overall movement to smoking21.
You are unlikely to ever smoke “just one” cigarette. Avoid giving in to the tobacco urges as one stick is likely to lead to more.
Curb tobacco cravings by engaging in exercise. This can mean taking a walk, going up and down stairs, doing chores, and other physical activities.
This will not only benefit your body physically, but also energize you mentally and emotionally, putting you in a better headspace to fight smoking urges.
Stress can be a trigger to smoke. In these instances, relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, massage, and listening to calming music can help you relax and stave off urges.
Lean on family, friends, and online support groups whenever the journey of quitting gets difficult. Surrounding yourself with supportive and like-minded individuals can help take the edge off quitting and even give you a much needed motivation boost.
Write down or reflect on why you want to quit in the first place. Some of these reasons may include:
Quitting smoking can be a long and difficult journey. However, it is worth keeping in mind that each urge resisted is a vote for a healthier you. Hopefully the information you learned today can not only put you in the right mindset, but also give you practical tips on how to start and eventually succeed in quitting the habit.
Smoking is detrimental to your health. It negatively affects almost every organ in your body and greatly increases your risk for other diseases and even death. While quitting smoking may not be easy, coming into the process armed with the proper mindset can help achieve your goal. Remember to be consistent; the little steps you take every day will eventually add up in the long run.References
Mikaela is a dentistry clinician at the University of the Philippines.