The Health Risks of Smoking

How Smoking Harms Us: From Head to Toe

An elderly man holds a cigarette
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Do you have any idea which smoking-related disease is the number one cause of death among smokers? If you're thinking it's lung cancer or COPD/emphysema, you're wrong. While both of these smoking-related diseases do claim a lot of lives, it is heart disease that that holds the top slot in the list of diseases that kill smokers.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States today, and the leading cause of death among smokers.

And, on a global level, researchers report that there were 1,690,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease among smokers in the year 2000. In contrast, there were approximately 850,000 lung cancer deaths during the same year, and 118,000 COPD deaths from smoking in 2001, worldwide.

Smoking is hard on the heart, but the fact is, tobacco use plays a role in a multitude of diseases that ultimately lead to disability and/or death. Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemical compounds; 250 of which are known to be poisonous, and upwards of 70 have been identified as carcinogens. Viewed in that light, it's no wonder that the effects of smoking are so widespread and destructive.

Let's take a look at how cigarette smoke affects our bodies, from head to toe. You may be surprised at some of the ways smoking has a negative impact on our health.

Brain and Mental Effects:

Eyes:

Nose:

  • Less sense of smell

Thyroid

Skin:

Hair:

  • Smell and staining

Teeth:

    Mouth and Throat:

    Hands:

    • Poor circulation(cold fingers)
    • Peripheral vascular disease
    • Tar-stained fingers

    Respiration and Lungs:

    Heart:

    Liver:

    Abdomen:

    Kidneys and bladder:

    • Kidney cancer
    • Bladder cancer

    Bones:

    Spine:

    Male reproduction:

    • Sperm: deformity, loss of motility, reduced number
    • Infertility
    • Impotence

    Female reproduction:

    Blood:

    Legs and Feet:

    • Gangrene
    • Peripheral vascular disease
    • Beurger Disease

    Immune System:

    • Weakened immune system

    The effects of smoking hold additional risks for women.

    Those who smoke throughout their pregnancies increase the risk of:

    Risks to the fetus include:

    • Smaller infant(for gestational age)
    • Stillborn infant
    • Birth defects, e.g. congenital limb reduction
    • Increased nicotine receptors in baby's brain
    • Increased likelihood of child smoking as a teenager
    • Possible predisposition to adult anxiety disorders

    As long as this list of diseases known to be associated with smoking is, it is incomplete. We don't yet fully understand all of the dangers that cigarette smoke presents, but research continues, bringing us new discoveries seemingly by the day.

    One thing is certain: Cigarettes snuff out life at an alarming rate. Statistics tell us that upwards of half of long-term smokers will die a smoking-related death. And globally, that presently translates to nearly 5 million deaths a year. Put another way, someone loses their life to smoking every 8 seconds somewhere in the world.

    If you currently smoke, use this information to help you see your smoking habit for what it is—a deadly addiction that you can live without. 

    As humans, we are incredibly resilient. While not all smoking damage is reversible, so much can be healed, even after years of smoking.

    Don't ever think it's too late for you to quit smoking, and please...don't waste any more of your life on cigarettes. Smoking offers you absolutely nothing of value.

    Take back your life. You deserve the freedom and long-lasting benefits that smoking cessation brings.

    Sources:

    The Tobacco Atlas: Health Risks. 2008. World Health Organization.

    WHO/WPRO - Smoking Statistics. 28 May, 2002. World Health Organization.

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