Smoking cigarettes damage the body in a number of different ways. Over several years, the American Council on Science and Health and many others have documented the effects of smoking. Everyone knows that it is bad for you, but not many know how it affects the body. There are many myths about smoking, which mainly occur with all of the teens that are smoking. Most teens dont know that the effects of smoking are mostly permanent. They think that they can smoke for a few years and then quit without suffering any long-term effects. This is most worrying to me, because the recent finding, reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), claims that teen smoking rates have increased by nearly a third within the last six years.
Teen smokers who believe that all of the health hazards will go away when they quit, usually have an I can always quit tomorrow, or the next week, month or year mentality. They feel as if they can walk away from smoking with no long term effects, which couldnt be further from the truth. The quitting success rates of teenagers is also very low. Less than 16% of the 633 teen smokers in a study were able to kick the habit. Most teens report that they want to quit but are unable to do so, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Teen smokers quickly become addicted to nicotine and when trying to fight the addiction, experience high relapse and withdrawal symptoms.
Of the 46 million smokers in the United States, 34 percent try to quit each year, but less than 10 percent succeed. Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It accounts for almost 500,000 deaths per year, or one in every five deaths. Smoking also contributes to a breathtaking amount of diseases which includes coronary heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, peripheral vascular disease, peptic ulcer disease, and many types of cancer.
Irreversible Health Effects
With smoking, the reversibility of health effects is influenced by many factors. For one, the amount of smoking exposure (number of cigarettes per day and the duration of smoking). The presence of other diseases already in the body, genetics and even nutritional factors enter into the equation. Quitting brings benefits no matter what age. It is a fact that quitting prolongs life and reduces the risk of tobacco-related cancers. There however, is still some irreversible effects of smoking. Some organs in the body will never recover fully from the damage the smoke has done. These consist of the respiratory system, heart, eyes, mouth and even the urinary and digestive organs.
Smoking directly irritates and damages the respiratory tract. Each year, a person who smokes one-pack-a-day smears the equivalent of one cup of tar over his or her respiratory tract. This irritation and damage cause a variety of symptoms, including bad breath, cough, wheezing, and respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. These effects can be reduced, but not entirely reversed, by quitting.
Smoking is the principal risk factor for developing chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Emphysema is characterized by permanent structural changes in the lung tissue. The deterioration in lung function associated with chronic bronchitis and emphysema is directly related to duration of smoking and the number of cigarettes smoked. Smoking during childhood not only increases the risk of developing chronic bronchitis and emphysema in adulthood, but also lowers the age of the life.
Every person in the world, smoker and nonsmoker, experiences a slow decline of lung function starting at about age 30. In smokers this gradual decline starts both with a lower amount of functioning and at an earlier age. Smokers suffer from decreased lung reserve, meaning they are unable to run, or even walk as far or as fast as their peers who have never smoked. Thus, smokers can expect permanently impaired lung function compared to their nonsmoker peers.
Chronic irritation of the respiratory lining and a wide variety of carcinogens cause permanent changes in the cells lining the respiratory tract. These changes can lead to cancer, says the American Thoracic Society. Cigarette smoking is, in fact, the major cause of lung cancers. The quitting of smoking reduces lung cancer risk anywhere from 30-50 percent 10 years after quitting. The risk also continues to decrease as the staying away from cigarettes continues.
Heart and Blood Circulation
Premature coronary heart disease (CHD) is one of the most important medical consequences of smoking. Sadly, sudden death may be the first sign of CHD, and sudden death is four times more likely to occur in young male cigarette smokers than in nonsmokers. The excessive risk or CHD is cut in half with quitters one year after they have quit, as compared to the continuation of smoking. However, the risk level doesnt return to that of a nonsmoker until 15 years after quitting.
Smoking also causes strong risk factors for several types of blood-vessel disease. Smoking causes poor circulation to the legs by narrowing the blood vessels that supply these extremities. Quitting reduces, but does not eliminate, this risk. Once it becomes symptomatic, such circulatory impairment often requires surgery.
Mouth, Throat, Eyes and Nose
The mouth, throat, eyes and nose are all decreased in function as a result of smoking. All of the tissues around the face respond to smoking by thickening and undergoing cellular changes that can eventually lead to mouth, throat and esophageal cancer. Gum disease and tooth loss are also common among smokers. Cigarette smoke irritates and can permanently damage the tissues of the larynx. The effect of this is a noticeable deepening and hoarseness in the voices of chronic smokers.
Smoking can also affect the eyes. A recent study has conclusions that, after 50,000 smokers were tracked for 12 years, smokers are two to three times as likely to develop blindness, as compared to nonsmokers. The study was done by Dr. Willet Seddon and Dr. Glynn Christen, who further said that the risk was caused by a reduced amount of blood flow to the eyes. Cataracts, or a clouding of the eye lens, are another visual problem that occurs with cigarette smoking. Smokers are at a 40% higher risk for developing cataracts as compared to nonsmokers. So, smoking doesnt only affect the heart and respiratory systems but the whole face.
Urinary Tract and Digestive Organs
Smoking causes bladder and kidney cancer. It is, in fact, the strongest risk factor known for developing bladder cancer. An ex-smokers risk of bladder cancer is reduced by a half within a few years of quitting smoking, says the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, the risk for bladder cancer doesnt fully extinguish for many years.
Smoking also creates a higher risk for pancreatic cancer and colon cancer. Smoking causes a decrease for esophageal sphincter pressure, which, in turn, allows acid to move from the stomach into the esophagus. When quitting smoking, the risk is reduced to 75%, but the high risk still stays around for approximately ten years.
There should be no illusions as to the dangers of cigarettes. The combination of the highly addictive, active substance, nicotine, and an array of poisonous chemicals can drastically affect ones health. People who smoke for as brief a period of 10 years show a substantially higher rate of death, disease and disability. Smokers should not believe that they can smoke safely for 10-15 years, then become of the lucky few who do quit, and then believe that they are healthy and risk free, as if they had never smoked at all. Theyre at risk for many irreversible diseases and health issues. The next time someone asks you if you want to light up, remember: Only 20% of smokers who try to quit are successful on a long term basis; for every four of those who take up smoking, the very decision to begin itself is irreversible.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What the Label Doesnt Tell You. 1998;
Pgs. 47, 386-389
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Reducing the Health Consequences of Smoking: 25 Years of Progress. A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Public Health Service; 1989
Seddon JM, Willit WC, Speizer FE, Hankinson SE. A Prospective Study of Cigarette Smoking and Age Related Macular Degeneration in Women. 1996;
Christen WG, Glynn RJ, Manson LE, Ajani UA, Buring JE. A Prospective Study of Cigarette Smoking and Risk of Age Related Macular Degeneration in Men. 1996;