By Lea Herring
Smoking causes roughly 480,000 deaths a year in the United States. Of those deaths, 41,000 are from secondhand smoke, meaning those who live and work around smokers can experience major health problems. It’s no surprise that smoking cigarettes is addictive, dangerous and quite expensive, but there are even more risks you may not know about. Here are seven surprising facts that might convince you to quit.
THERE ARE UP TO 7,000 CHEMICALS IN A BURNING CIGARETTE
The inside of a cigarette contains tobacco and chemicals like arsenic and cadmium, and when it’s burning it produces carbon monoxide. “Out of those 7,000 chemicals, 70 of them are known to cause cancer, and that’s a fact everyone should be aware of,” says Dr. Farah H. Akhdar, DO, a family practitioner from Redford, Michigan.
Other common chemicals and poisons found in cigarettes are:
SMOKING IS TIED TO STRESS
Many people with disorders like anxiety or depression feel that they need to smoke to relieve stress—but it can actually increase anxiety. Stress levels are higher in smokers than nonsmokers, which can raise blood pressure and heart attack risk. “Smokers are mistaken in thinking that when under stress, smoking will relieve their symptoms. It is the nicotine depletion that actually causes stress to begin with,” says Dr. Akhdar.
Here’s why: When you smoke, extra receptors are created in the brain to handle the amount of nicotine entering your body. When you’re not smoking, you’re not feeding those extra receptors with nicotine. “Nicotine addiction happens when it’s depleted from the body, which makes you feel even more stressed and anxious,” says Dr. Akhdar.
THE CONNECTION BETWEEN SMOKING AND CANCER
Today’s smokers are more likely to develop lung cancer than those who lived up 50 years ago. Eighty percent of lung cancer deaths are from smoking. And it is not just cigarette smokers who develop the disease. Smoking cigars, pipes and light or low-tar cigarettes have all been linked to lung cancer. The risk may be even higher for menthol products.
Another shocking statistic: almost one-third of cancer deaths that occurred in the US in 2017 could be attributed to cigarette smoking. It increases the risk of cancers of the oral cavity and pharynx, larynx, lung, esophagus, pancreas, uterine cervix, kidney, bladder, stomach, colon and rectum and liver, as well as acute myeloid leukemia.
Smokers aren’t just harming their own bodies. They are creating major health risks for anyone who lives or works within their smoke. It’s estimated that secondhand smoke causes more than 7,000 deaths from lung cancer each year, as well as 34,000 deaths linked to heart disease.
SMOKING DAMAGES YOUR HEART AND LUNGS
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and bronchitis, is the third leading cause of death in the United States. About 8 of 10 of those COPD deaths are from smoking. COPD damages the lungs, causing shortness of breath and a cough that gets worse over time. Smoking and secondhand smoke can also aggravate asthma in all ages.
Heart health is also greatly impacted when you use tobacco. Smoking accelerates the buildup of plaque in the arteries, beginning as early as adolescence. It also increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, peripheral vascular disease, aortic aneurysm and sudden death.
Regardless of how many years you have used tobacco, quitting now can save your heart. “According to The World Health Organization, quitting smoking for one year decreases your risk for coronary heart disease by half of what it would be as a smoker,” adds Dr. Akhdar.
OTHER DISEASES LINKED TO SMOKING
Beyond cancer and cardiovascular diseases, smoking can have many other scary effects on your body and overall health. Smokers are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes, as well as related complications like kidney disease, vision problems and nerve or circulation damage that can result in amputation. Tobacco use increases the risk for eye disease, including macular degeneration and cataracts.
Even bone health can be compromised. Smoking is a risk factor for osteoporosis and can increase the likelihood and severity of fractures.
It’s not just your body that feels the effects of smoking. Tobacco can harm your brain function. Memory performance and attention have been known to decline faster in smokers. It can also increase your risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia by up to 79 percent. “All forms of tobacco have long-term effects,” says Dr. Akhdar.
TOBACCO CAN CHANGE THE WAY YOU LOOK
Before your next cigarette, think about what smoking can do to your appearance. Tooth loss and gum disease are just some of the effects tobacco use can have on your oral health. If you chew smokeless tobacco, the sugar and irritants in those products can cause cavities.
Smokers’ hair tends to look brittle and less shiny, with more split ends. You may also have drier, pastier skin that can develop more wrinkles than nonsmokers of the same age. The good news is that quitting can slow down the signs of aging on your face.
YOUR FERTILITY COULD DECREASE
Regardless of your gender, smoking can reduce fertility. Men may experience erectile dysfunction due to smoking’s impact on circulation. It may also damage sperm.
Women who smoke during pregnancy have more complications, lower birth weights and a greater chance of early deliveries and stillbirths. Tobacco can harm the placenta, as well as the baby’s developing brain and lungs. Babies of smokers have an increased risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), whether their mother smoked while pregnant or due to secondhand smoke after they are born.
Secondhand smoke is dangerous for kids of any age. It leads to ear and respiratory infections and is also responsible for many asthma attacks. There is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke.
The effects go well beyond childbearing years in women. Those who continue to smoke can experience menopause up to four years earlier than women who don’t.
There are grave risks to your body, health and mind for those who continue to smoke. The good news is that it is never too late to repair the damage, even if you have been smoking for years. Quitting today can lead to a healthier life for years to come.
KICK THE HABIT IN THE BUTT
Before you quit, the American Lung Association suggests defining your reasons, and making sure you understand the process. Talking to your primary care physician can help reach your goal. You can also:
- Create a strong support group of family and friends
- Identify triggers like cigarette smoke and lighters, and learn how to avoid them
- Do exercises such as walking or yoga
- Chew sugar-free gum or suck on a toothpick to curb the physical habit
“The more you see how beneficial it is for you to quit smoking, the more likely you’ll consider a plan to quit smoking,” says Dr. Akhdar.
Sourcing: CDC, American Lung Association, National Institutes of Health, Anxiety and Depression Association of America, National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, World Health Organization