Smoking is responsible for several diseases such as cancer, long-term (chronic) respiratory diseases, heart disease, as well as premature death. It’s the largest cause of preventable death in the world. Recent studies have found that smokers can also undermine the health of non-smokers in some environments.
Smoking causes cancer!
Lung cancer is one of the most common causes of cancer deaths in the world. Male smokers are 23 times more likely to develop lung cancer than those who have never smoked, and female smokers 13 times more likely.
In addition to lung cancer, smokers also have a significantly higher risk of developing:
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Cancers of the pharynx and larynx (throat cancer)
- Mouth cancer
- Esophagus cancer
- Cancer of the pancreas
- Stomach cancer
- Some types of leukemia
- Cancer of the nose and sinuses
- Cervical cancer
- Bowel cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- And in some cases, also breast cancer
Smoking also raises the risk of cancer recurrences (the cancer coming back).
Why does smoking raise cancer risk?
Scientists say there are over 4 000 compounds in cigarette smoke. A sizeable number of them are toxic, are bad for us and damage our cells. Some of them cause cancer – they are carcinogenic.
Tobacco smoke consists mainly of:
- Nicotine – this is not carcinogenic. However, it’s highly addictive. Smokers find it very hard to quit because they are hooked on the nicotine. Nicotine is an extremely fast-acting drug. It reaches the brain within 15 seconds of being inhaled. If cigarettes and other tobacco products had no nicotine, the number of people who smoke every day would drop drastically. Without nicotine, the tobacco industry would collapse.
- Nicotine is used as a highly controlled insecticide. Exposure to sufficient amounts can lead to vomiting, seizures, depression of the CNS (central nervous system), and growth retardation. It can also undermine a fetus’s proper development.
- Carbon Monoxide – this is a poisonous gas. It has no smell or taste. The body finds it hard to differentiate carbon monoxide from oxygen and absorbs it into the bloodstream. Faulty boilers emit dangerous carbon monoxide, as do car exhausts.
- If there is enough carbon monoxide around you and you inhale it, you can go into a coma and die. Carbon monoxide decreases muscle and heart function, it causes fatigue, weakness and dizziness. It’s especially toxic for babies still in the womb, infants and individuals with heart or lung disease.
- Tar – consists of several cancer-causing chemicals. When a smoker inhales cigarette smoke, 70% of the tar remains in the lungs. Try the handkerchief test. Fill the mouth with smoke, don’t inhale, and blow the smoke through the handkerchief. There will be a sticky, brown stain on the cloth. Do this again, but this time inhale and the blow the smoke through the cloth, there will only be a very faint light brown stain.
Smoking and heart/cardiovascular disease:
- Smoking causes an accumulation of fatty substances in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, the main contributor to smoking-related deaths. Smoking is also a significant contributory factor in coronary heart disease risk. People with coronary heart disease are much more likely to have a heart attack.
- Tobacco smoke raises the risk of coronary heart disease by itself. When combined with other risk factors such as hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, physical inactivity, or diabetes, the risk of serious, chronic illness and death is huge.
- Smoking also worsens heart disease risk factors. It raises blood pressure, makes it harder to do exercise and makes the blood clot more easily than it should. People who have undergone bypass surgery and smoke have a higher risk of recurrent coronary heart disease.
- A female smoker who is also on the contraceptive pill has a considerably higher risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke compared to women using oral contraceptives who don’t smoke.
- If you smoke your levels of HDL, also known as good cholesterol will drop.
- If you have a history of heart disease and smoke, your risk of having such a disease yourself is extremely high.
- A much higher percentage of regular smokers have strokes compared to other non-smokers of the same age. The cerebrovascular system is damaged when we inhale smoke regularly.
- Those who smoke run a higher risk of developing aortic aneurysm and arterial disease.