In an article published online in Medical News Today on 30 May 2013, we presented data demonstrating that, on average, smokers die ten years sooner than non-smokers.
Smoking causes cancer
90% of lung cancer patients developed their disease because of smoking. Lung cancer is one of the most common causes of cancer deaths in the world. Smokers also have a significantly higher risk of developing:
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Cancers of the pharynx and larynx (throat cancer)
- Mouth cancer
- Esophagus cancer
- Cancer of the pancreas
- Stomach cancer
- Some types of leukemia
- Cancer of the nose and sinuses
- Cervical cancer
- Bowel cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- In some cases, also breast cancer
According to Cancer Research UK, one person dies every 15 minutes in Great Britain from lung cancer. Smoking also raises the risk of cancer recurrences (the cancer coming back).
Why does smoking raise cancer risk?
Scientists say there are over 4,000 compounds in cigarette smoke. A sizeable number of them are toxic – they are bad for us and damage our cells. Some of them cause cancer – they are carcinogenic.
Tobacco smoke consists mainly of:
Nicotine – this is not carcinogenic. However, it is highly addictive. Smokers find it very hard to quit because they are hooked on the nicotine. Nicotine is an extremely fast-acting drug. It reaches the brain within 15 seconds of being inhaled. If cigarettes and other tobacco products had no nicotine, the number of people who smoke every day would drop drastically. Without nicotine, the tobacco industry would collapse.
Nicotine is used as a highly controlled insecticide. Exposure to sufficient amounts can lead to vomiting, seizures, depression of the CNS (central nervous system), and growth retardation. It can also undermine a fetus’ proper development.
Carbon Monoxide – this is a poisonous gas. It has no smell or taste. The body finds it hard to differentiate carbon monoxide from oxygen and absorbs it into the bloodstream. Faulty boilers emit dangerous carbon monoxide, as do car exhausts.
If there is enough carbon monoxide around you and you inhale it, you can go into a coma and die. Carbon monoxide decreases muscle and heart function, it causes fatigue, weakness, and dizziness. It is especially toxic for babies still in the womb, infants and indifividuals with heart or lung disease.
Tar – consists of several cancer-causing chemicals. When a smoker inhales cigarette smoke, 70% of the tar remains in the lungs. Try the handkerchief test. Fill the mouth with smoke, don’t inhale, and blow the smoke through the handkerchief. There will be a sticky, brown stain on the cloth. Do this again, but this time inhale and the blow the smoke through the cloth, there will only be a very faint light brown stain.
Smoking and heart/cardiovascular disease
Smoking causes an accumulation of fatty substances in the arteries, known as atherosclerosis, the main contributor to smoking-related deaths. Smoking is also a significant contributory factor in coronary heart disease risk. People with coronary heart disease are much more likely to have a heart attack.
Tobacco smoke raises the risk of coronary heart disease by itself. When combined with other risk factors, such as hypertension (high blood pressure), obesity, physical inactivity, or diabetes, the risk of serious, chronic illness and death is huge.
Smoking also worsens heart disease risk factors. It raises blood pressure, makes it harder to do exercise, makes the blood clot more easily than it should. People who have undergone bypass surgery and smoke have a higher risk of recurrent coronary heart disease.
According to the American Heart Association:
“Cigarette smoking is the most important risk factor for young men and women. It produces a greater relative risk in persons under age 50 than in those over 50.”
A female smoker who is also on the contraceptive pill has a considerably higher risk of developing coronary heart disease and stroke compared to women using oral contraceptives who don’t smoke.
If you smoke your levels of HDL, also known as good cholesterol will drop.
If you have a history of heart disease and smoke, your risk of having such a disease yourself is extremely high.
A much higher percentage of regular smokers have strokes compared to other non-smokers of the same age. The cerebrovascular system is damaged when we inhale smoke regularly.