The health effects of cigarette smoking are vast and well documented. In fact, over 75,000 reports have examined the connection between cigarette smoking and its effects (U.S. DHHS “Reducing Health”). A Report to the Surgeon General has stated that ‘It is safe to say that smoking represents the most extensively documented cause of disease ever investigated in the history of biomedical research (U.S. DHHS “The Health”). And a 1988 Report to the Surgeon General stated that nicotine (the drug found in tobacco) is as addictive as heroin and cocaine (American Lung Association, Pg. 2).
The effects of smoking have been observed for a very long time. As early as the 1920’s, research identified nicotine as being extremely poisonous, and tobacco use was linked with a variety of illnesses (Walker R. Pg. 7). During the 1920’s and 1930’s, increases in the number of patients with lung cancer were recorded by hospital staff (Yale Journal, Pg. 146). Medical research finally discovered a link between smoking and lung cancer in 1950 (Br Medical Journal “Smoking” Pg. 83). In the years since, smoking has been linked to a number of other diseases that can cause many years of illness and death. Each year more people die from smoking related diseases than AIDS, Drug abuse, car accidents and homicide combined, and costs the nation $65 billion dollars per year in health care costs and lost productivity (American Lung Association Pg. 1).
Smoking only one cigarette has an immediate effect on the body. Although a smoker might feel relaxed when having a cigarette, the nicotine in cigarettes actually increases the heart rate and makes the blood pressure rise. Nicotine also tightens the blood vessels. This slows down blood flow to the skin, and it’s temperature drops. Nicotine also stimulates, then reduces, brain activity, and affects food digestion (U.S. DHHS “The Health”). People who are new to smoking often feel sick or dizzy when they smoke. This is their body’s way of responding to the effects of nicotine. When you add to this the carbon monoxide that enters the blood stream with cigarette smoke, it takes the place of vital oxygen that is needed by the muscles and organs (U.S. DHHS “The Health”). This means that the body is not able to perform to the best of its capacity.
Chemicals in tobacco smoke harm the airways and lungs, damaging the lung’s ability to clean themselves, and making the smoker more open to coughs and chest infection (U.S. DHHS “The Health”). Teenage smokers cough more than teenagers who do not smoke, and by the time they become adults, many young smokers will already have abnormal changes in the cells lining their small airways (Center for Disease Control, Pg. 16). Teenage smokers also have more asthma and allergic symptoms than non-smokers of the same age, and get more easily winded when exercising (Center for Disease Control, Pg. 16). As you can now see, smoking effects many parts of the body. Just one cigarette dose make a difference, and even young smokers show signs of damage due to smoking.
When people become regular users of tobacco, they can find it very difficult to stop. Starting smoking when young, and smoking for a very long time, makes it more likely that a smoking related disease will develop (U.S. DHHS “The Health”). Approximately one in two smokers will die from a smoking related illness (Br. Medical Journal “ Mortality” Pg. 3).
Smoking leads to a wide range of diseases, including heart disease and stroke, a number of different kinds of cancer, and chest and lung illnesses. Stomach ulcers have also been found to be caused by smoking. Smoking also affects an unborn child and fertility of men and women.
Cigarette smoking is a major cause of heart and blood vessel disease. Smoking affects the working of the body’s blood supply in a number of ways. It helps to make the arteries (important blood transport vessels) hard and narrow, and more likely to become blocked. It also raises the body’s blood pressure, and makes the heart work harder. The carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke deprives the body of much needed oxygen. Acting together these things can cause death, or permanent disability. Narrow arteries may burst under pressure of the blood trying to get through. This is called aneurysm, and is life threatening. Blockages in the blood supply around the heart can lead to a heart attack. A blockage in the brain can cause strokes, which can cause death or disability. The damage depends on what part of the brain is effected. If blockages in the veins of the arms or legs occur, severe pain will result, and the body part may need to be amputated. This type of blood vessel disease is called peripheral vascular disease (U.S. DHHS “The Health”). Other important causes of heart disease that people can avoid are having high blood fat levels, high blood pressure, and being overweight. If someone smokes as well as has any of these other factors, then they are at a much greater risk of developing heart disease (National Heart Foundation Pg. 5).
Long-term exposure to the chemicals in cigarette smoke can lead to cancer in different parts of the body. Smoke from cigarettes contains 43 different chemicals known to cause cancer (U.S. DHHS “Reducing Health”). Lung cancer is the most common form of cancer caused by smoking. It can take many years to develop, and almost always leads to death (Association of Cancer Registries Pg. 22). Most people who die from lung cancer are people who smoke (Association of Cancer Registries Pg. 22). Smoking also causes cancer of the lips, tongue, mouth, throat, air pipe, and pancreas, and is linked to cancers of the stomach, bladder, cervix, and kidneys (U.S. DHHS “The Health”). It is estimated that smoking causes around a third of all cancer deaths (Association of Cancer Registries Pg. 21).
When we breathe in, our lungs stretch to fill their air sacs (called alveoli). Oxygen passes through the alveoli wall to the blood. Carbon dioxide leaves the blood as we exhale. A smoker’s lungs also fill with gases from tobacco smoke, so other gases and chemicals enter the blood stream as well. The airways are lined with tiny hairs called cilia. Cilia help filter out dust and other particles we breath in. Chemicals in tobacco smoke have a harmful effect on cilia. When the cilium are unable to clean the airways, there is a buildup of mucous and poisons that can lead to damage and disease (U.S. DHHS “The Health”). The lungs respond to the damage caused by tobacco smoke by producing more mucus and phlegm, which makes a smoker need to cough. This is commonly known as a smoker’s cough. Smokers are also more likely to get infections in the lungs and airways due to the extra mucus secretions. This is called chronic bronchitis.
Eventually the lungs loose their ability to stretch, and become hard and narrow, making breathing more difficult and reducing the ability of the lungs to work properly.
Emphysema is damage to the small airways within the lungs. The elastic walls around the air sacks are permanently destroyed, and are unable to contract and expand. This makes parts of the lungs unable to work properly. Some degree of emphysema is found in almost all people who smoke more than twenty cigarettes per day (U.S. DHHS “The Health”).
Smoking raises the heart rate and blood pressure, and reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood. Chemicals in cigarette smoke also irritate the airways and make then narrower. These immediate effects make it more difficult for the body to perform at its best. The carbon monoxide in the blood also can effect eyesight, response time, and coordination. Even after one day of not smoking, more oxygen is available to the blood, and the body’s physical performance improves (American Lung Association Pg. 1).
As well as the health problems and diseases, women who smoke face additional problems. Women smokers are more likely to have irregular periods, and to reach menopause early. They also have a greater risk of developing cancer of the cervix (American Lung Association Pg. 6). Women who smoke and use the contraceptive pill have a ten times greater risk of heart attack, stroke and cardiovascular disease (U.S. DHHS “Health Consequences of smoking for women”).
Smoking also effects male fertility. Studies have shown that male smokers produce less sperm and have more abnormal sperm than nonsmoker’s (American Lung Association Pg. 7). Male smokers are also more likely to have difficulty getting an erection, due to problems with blood flow to the penis associated with cigarette smoking (Br. Medical Journal “Smoking” Pg. 3).
Smoking also causes a number of other health problems. Smokers are more likely to develop ulcers than nonsmokers are, and an ulcer take longer to heal in smoker than it dose in a non-smoker (U.S.DHHS “Reducing”). Smoking is also known to affect the body’s immune system, which is the way the body protects itself against infection and disease (U.S. DHHS “The Health”). Smokers who have surgical procedures are more likely to have problems with the surgery and recovery, due to the effects of smoking on the heart, blood circulation, and oxygen supply (Royal Pg. 1). Smokers have a poorer sense of smell than nonsmokers, are more likely to snore, and to have wrinkles around the eyes and mouth. Smoking also effects the color of the complexion (Daniell, Pg. 3).
The effects and consequences of cigarette smoking have been proven to be detrimental to all those who smoke, as well as any one who is exposed to second hand smoke. Its has also been proven that by smoking just one cigarette, you put your body at risk for some of these effects.
The only way we as a society can diminish these effects is decrease the number of people who smoke. Taking more time to educate others and ourselves to the health problems and side effects associated with smoking would be the first step in keeping new smokers from starting, and helping those who already smoke want to quit.
Br Medical Journal. Mortality in Relation to Smoking: 40 years’ observation on male British doctors, 1994
Br. Medical Journal. Smoking and Carcinoma of the lungs, 1950
Daniell H.W. A Study of the Epidemiology of a Smokers Wrinkles, 1971
Center for Disease Control. The Health Effects of Smoking on Young People. Internet URL: http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/osh/stspta5.htm
National Heart Foundation of Australia. Heart Health Resource Manual. Sydney Australia, 1989
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The health consequences of smoking. A report to the Surgeon General. (CDC) Publication No 88-8406, 1988
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking for Women: A report to the Surgeon General. (CDC) Publication No 1980
Note: Page numbers for the information found in U.S. DHHS Surgeon General reports was mistakenly omitted.