According to the World Health Organization, tobacco kills over 8 million people globally every year. Despite the well-known health risks associated with smoking, around 80 percent of the world’s population continues to smoke.
Smoking negatively impacts nearly every organ in the body and is linked to numerous health conditions. While the harmful effects of smoking are well documented, many people underestimate the severity of smoking-related diseases. Did you know that around 1.3 billion people are non-smokers who still suffer the consequences due to second-hand smoke?
Understanding the ways smoking harms your health as well as your loved ones can help motivate smokers to quit and non-smokers to never start. Let’s discuss.
Smoking Causes Lung Disease
Smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemicals, 70 of which are known to cause cancer. When inhaled into the lungs, these chemicals damage lung tissue, cause inflammation, and disrupt lung function over time.
Smoking is linked to around 80-90% of lung cancer deaths, which is the deadliest form of cancer worldwide, with only a 15% 5-year survival rate. There are two main types of lung cancer: small cell and non-small cell lung cancer. Non-small cell lung cancer is the most common type, accounting for around 80-85% of lung cancer cases. The carcinogens in tobacco smoke mutate lung cells, causing rapid and uncontrolled growth. As lung tumors grow, they impair breathing, trigger coughing, and can metastasize throughout the body.
Smoking also causes most cases of COPD, a group of progressive lung diseases. COPD damages the airways and destroys lung tissue, leading to long-term breathing problems. The two types of COPD are chronic bronchitis, or long-term inflammation of the bronchi, and emphysema, which involves the destruction of the lung’s air sacs.
Smoking Increases Heart Disease Risk
Smoking increases your risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that damage blood cells, thicken blood, and narrow blood vessels and arteries. Over time, smoking creates plaque buildup in the arteries, called atherosclerosis, which raises the risk of heart attack and stroke.
Specifically, smoking doubles your risk of dying from heart disease. It is a major cause of coronary heart disease, the most common type of heart disease, which occurs when plaque blocks blood flow to the heart. Smoking also increases the tendency for blood to clot, which can block arteries and lead to heart attack. Even secondhand smoke exposure raises your risk of heart disease by 25-30%.
Smoking Causes Cancer
In addition to lung cancer, smoking also causes at least 14 other types of cancer. Smoking accounts for 30% of all cancer deaths in the U.S. The carcinogens in tobacco smoke enter the bloodstream and spread through the body, causing cellular damage that can lead to cancer.
Some smoking-related cancers include:
- Mouth and throat cancer: Smoking is linked to cancer of the lip, tongue, mouth, throat, and larynx (voice box).
- Bladder cancer: Smoking makes you four times more likely to get bladder cancer.
- Kidney cancer: Long-term smoking doubles the risk of renal cell carcinoma, the most common type of kidney cancer in adults.
- Pancreatic cancer: Cigarette smokers are 2-3 times more likely to develop pancreatic cancer.
- Stomach cancer: Smoking is associated with more than 60% increased risk of stomach cancer, which is the third leading cause of cancer death worldwide.
- Cervical cancer: Smoking increases the risk of cervical cancer twice as much in women.
- Colorectal cancer: Long-term smoking is associated with a 61% increased risk of colorectal cancer.
Smoking Weakens Bones and Increases Fracture Risk
Smoking negatively affects bone health in multiple ways. First, the nicotine in cigarettes interferes with calcium absorption, causing weakened bones that are more prone to fractures. It also lowers estrogen levels in women, which accelerates bone loss.
Studies show that smoking increases fracture risk by 25%. Hip fractures are especially common in elderly women smokers while coughing from long-term smoking also stresses the spine, contributing to vertebral fractures.
Smoking is also linked to osteoporosis, which causes bones to become brittle and porous. People living with Osteoporosis experience gradual bone loss over time, resulting in an increased risk of fractures. Smokers develop osteoporosis at earlier ages than non-smokers.
Smoking Reduces Fertility
Smoking makes it harder to conceive and increases the risk of infertility in both men and women. In men, smoking decreases sperm count, motility, and morphology. It also damages sperm DNA, which reduces fertility. In women, smoking speeds up the loss of ovarian follicles, which can trigger earlier menopause. Smoking also increases the risk of ectopic pregnancy, which is life-threatening.
Smoking also harms fertility in indirect ways. It increases the risk of erectile dysfunction and impotence in men. In women, smoking makes it harder to maintain a pregnancy. It increases the risk of preterm birth, miscarriage, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Smoking Prematurely Ages Your Skin
Smoking accelerates the aging process of skin, causing wrinkles, uneven tone, and sagging. Toxins in smoke narrow blood vessels in the outer layers of skin. This impairs blood flow and reduces oxygen and nutrients, damaging collagen and elastin that keep skin firm and youthful.
Smoking also depletes vitamins A and C, both vital antioxidants for healthy skin. It degrades hyaluronic acid that hydrates skin and gives it volume. As a result, smokers tend to develop deep wrinkles and leathery skin at a younger age.
The negative impacts of smoking extend far beyond the lungs. Smoking harms nearly every organ and increases the risk of numerous diseases. Major smoking-related illnesses include lung disease, heart disease, and stroke. It also causes gum disease, tooth decay, skin aging, and reduced fertility.
The good news is that quitting smoking has immediate and long-term health benefits at any age. The longer you abstain from smoking, the more you reduce your risk of many debilitating and fatal diseases.
So, if you smoke, make a plan to quit today. Your body will thank you.