Despite recent changes in the law, that banned smoking in public places, there are still a huge number of smokers in the UK. Most are aware that smoking is bad for you, but few understand the true effects of smoking. Here are a few staggering facts:
- Around 120,000 people die in the UK each year from smoking related diseases
- Worldwide this figure rises to around 5 million deaths every year
- Around half of all lifetime smokers will die from their habit
The effects of smoking can be seen in practically every organ of the body, from head to toe, from the surface of your skin to the depths of your lungs, as the 4,000 chemicals, including nicotine and carbon monoxide, wreak havoc on the human body.
This article on the effects of smoking is by Kathryn Senior, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.
The immediate physical effects
The effects of smoking begin almost immediately, as you draw on your first cigarette. Your blood pressure rises and your heart rate increases by up to 20 beats per minute, both of which put pressure on your heart. At the same time, your peripheral circulation shrinks, limiting the blood supply to your fingers and toes. Your nervous system is temporarily stimulated, while your senses of taste and smell are subdued.
Long-term physical effects
Apart from causing over 25 major diseases, smoking can cause other long-term problems, including impotence in men and infertility in women, staining on fingers and teeth, reduced ability to recover from minor coughs and colds and even the early arrival of wrinkles. The effects of smoking on your cardiovascular system will also mean you experience reduced fitness and lower energy levels.
The effects on the heart and lungs
The lungs are obviously affected by smoking as they take in the smoke and absorb the chemicals from the tobacco:
- In the lungs, the carbon monoxide poisons the fine filaments that absorb oxygen and transfer it to the blood, reducing the efficiency of the system and causing shortness of breath. Tar from cigarettes also builds up on the surface of the lungs, further reducing their ability to transfer oxygen. A 20 a day smoker breathes in the equivalent of a 210g cup of tar every year.
- In the long-term, the effects of smoking are a major cause of emphysema, chronic bronchitis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, as the lungs struggle to cope with their reduced efficiency.
The heart is also badly affected. Increased pressure on your heart caused by the effects of smoking can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Smoking also causes fatty deposits to build up in the arteries, further straining the heart. Around one in five deaths from heart disease are caused by smoking.
The effects on cancer
Numerous cancers have been linked to smoking. These include mouth and throat cancers, liver cancer, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer and, of course, lung cancer, which is particularly difficult to treat and has a very poor life expectancy. Lung cancer alone kills around 20,000 people a year in the UK alone, with male smokers shown to be 22 times more likely to die from the disease.
The effects while pregnant
Since their cells are still developing and dividing rapidly, the toxins in cigarette smoke have a particularly harmful effect on the unborn child. The effects of smoking when pregnant include low birth weight, spontaneous abortion, increased risk of premature birth, and even the terrible possibility of a still-birth.
The effects on those around you
Of course, you don’t have to be the smoker to suffer from the effects of smoking. Many studies have shown that second-hand smoke can be almost as harmful, especially for small children. Second-hand smoke increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or cot death, as well as breathing problems such as asthma and acute respiratory infections.
The addictive effects
Alongside the many and horrible physical effects of smoking, it is also worth considering the psychological effects. Smoking is highly addictive and is not something you will be able to stop easily. Your addiction to nicotine can lead to withdrawal symptoms such as irritability, loss of sleep, headaches and lack of concentration, as you come to terms with the overwhelming cravings.
The effects on your bank account
If none of the many physical effects of smoking put you off, then it is worth considering one final factor – the impact that smoking has on your bank account. The government taxes cigarettes and tobacco product heavily, to help to pay for the medical treatment that smokers will inevitably need. Get hooked and you will soon feel the pain in your bank balance, with a pack of twenty currently costing around £5.50 to £6.
Undoing the effects
For many people, because the effects of smoking are mostly long-term, they do not appreciate the cumulative damage of each individual cigarette. However, the good news is that while the effects of smoking build up slowly, the effects of stopping can be far quicker. Your senses of taste and smell will return soon after stopping, and your body will begin to repair itself almost immediately. All but the heaviest, long-term smokers can return to the same level of health as a non-smoker in just a few years after stopping.