Top 5 Reasons to Quit Smoking (This is what smoking does to your body)

  • Reduces your life span
  • Others around you health
  • Smell (bad breath, clothes
  • Wrinkled skin, yellow teeth, yellow nails
  • Money

Bad for YOUR Health (Reasons to quit smoking)

Ok so the biggest reason to quit smoking is the most obvious one, and that is, smoking is extremely bad for your health.

Why is smoking tobacco so bad for your health? 

Tobacco smoke contains over 7000 chemicals including hundreds that are toxic and about 70 that can cause cancer, meaning they are carcinogenic.  There are 3 chemicals that are especially dangerous; that is tar, nicotine, and carbon monoxide. 

Tar is a substance that becomes sticky in the lungs and tar itself is actually made up of a bunch of chemicals that are known to be carcinogens.  Carbon monoxide is a colorless and odorless gas that binds to the hemoglobin in your blood and therefore allows less oxygen to bind to the hemoglobin in your blood and ultimately results in less oxygen being able to be delivered to the tissues in your body. 

Nicotine is an addictive chemical that gets into the blood stream and travels to all parts of the body including the brain.  When someone smokes cigarettes, the nicotine that they inhale gets absorbed by the blood that is in the capillaries in the lungs and it then gets delivered to different parts of the body when the heart pumps it in the arteries.  But what about if someone is not smoking and instead you will say they are chewing tobacco or snuffing? 

Well, that nicotine gets absorbed mainly through the mucous membranes of the mouth and ultimately still makes its way to the brain but this is a slower process, but because it is constantly being absorbed, it has a steady-state in the bloodstream and therefore has a steady effect on the brain. 

So, it is a more consistent effect of the nicotine on the brain.  Either way, whenever nicotine is in your bloodstream and ultimately makes its way to the brain, it activates receptors in the brain’s reward and motivation center. 

This nicotine gives pleasurable feelings but over time, the brain needs more and more of the nicotine to get more and more of those pleasurable feelings.  When the body eventually breaks down the nicotine in your system, you have less and less nicotine in the body and when that nicotine goes away, that is when the withdrawal symptoms develop and that is when the cravings develop. 

So, the withdrawal symptoms include difficulty concentrating, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, it can cause sleep problems, it can cause headaches, dizziness, and increased appetite.  Of course, this only makes people want to smoke to get that nicotine in their body.  Nicotine comes in different forms but ultimately all forms of nicotine are not good for your health. 

Cigarettes are the most popular tobacco products.  There are some cigarettes that claim to have less tar and less nicotine, the so-called light cigarettes, but what usually happens is people tend to inhale longer and/or smoke more of these light cigarettes in order to maintain that same level of nicotine.  Ultimately, they end up spending more money on cigarettes and end up getting the same amount of nicotine in their body regardless.  They are just as likely to get a smoking-related disease regardless.

Now, what about smokeless tobacco?  Well, tobacco that is smokeless can still cause cancer and other health problems.  So, in other words, chewing tobacco or snuffing is what I am talking about here.  In fact, chewing tobacco increases the risk of oral cancer about 50 times compared to people who don’t use chewing tobacco.  There is still a possibility that this chewing tobacco can cause cancer in other parts of the body as well, but this has not been proven yet.

When it comes to smoking, whether from cigarettes, water pipes, or cigars – tobacco puts you at higher risk for all sorts of diseases.

Inhalation of tobacco smoke entails inhaling toxic gases and particles of tar, and eventually damages the lungs. Not only can it cause damage in the lungs so that people develop inflammation of the airways – meaning bronchitis, but they can also develop different forms of pneumonia, in addition to COPD and emphysema.  It can also contribute towards other types of lung disease, something we call interstitial lung disease. 

This includes things like pulmonary fibrosis where you have scarring of the lungs.  It can cause noninfectious types of pneumonia such as acute eosinophilic pneumonia, in addition to desquamative interstitial lung disease, and RB-ILD. Also, smokers are more likely to get respiratory viruses like cold, flu, and COVID-19.

Smoking also dramatically raises the risk of having coronary artery disease including raising the risk of having a heart attack but also raises the risk of disease affecting blood vessels in other parts of the body such as blood vessels in the brain and that is why, it raises the risk of stroke, also raises the risk of peripheral artery disease where you have constriction of the arteries in the legs making it painful to walk. 

It raises the risk of developing aortic aneurysms meaning a weakened area of the aorta, and sometimes when people have aortic aneurysms, the aorta can burst open which causes life-threatening bleeding.  When people have this ruptured aorta, they usually don’t survive.

When it comes to smoking and cancer, it is interesting to note that women are more likely to develop lung cancer than men.  Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer deaths in women, it actually claims more women’s lives than breast cancer, cervical cancer, uterine cancer, and ovarian cancer combined.

Also, women who smoke have a harder time getting pregnant compared to women who don’t smoke.  Women who smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have an underweight baby, which is defined as less than 5-1/2 pounds.  Low birth weight babies are much more likely to die during the first month of life compared to babies who are of normal weight. 

Also smoking during pregnancy has been linked to higher rates of miscarriage and stillbirths, and children who are born to mothers who smoke during pregnancy are also more likely to have brain damage, cerebral palsy, and behavioral problems.

When it comes to the reproductive system in men, smoking is known to contribute towards erectile dysfunction.  This happens because smoking slows blood flow to the penis.  If a man quits smoking, he is less likely to have erectile dysfunction compared to a man who doesn’t quit smoking.

Then, there are other health issues that are more likely to arise in smokers.  For example, smokers are at a greater risk of having stomach ulcers.  There is also a higher likelihood of developing visual problems in older adults such as cataracts and macular degeneration. There is also probably a higher likelihood of women developing osteoporosis.

Top 5 Reasons to Quit Smoking

It affects the way you look (Reasons to quit smoking)

People are more likely to develop wrinkled skin and are more likely to have stained teeth, yellow fingernails

It affects the way you smell (Reasons to quit smoking)

Not just the stench that surrounds you, but it gives you bad breath. 

Smoking affects the health of others (Reasons to quit smoking)

A lot of people want to know how dangerous is secondhand smoke.  Well, in short, inhaling secondhand smoke increases the risk of getting many of the same diseases as smokers do, and this includes lung cancer, coronary artery disease such as the heart attack, stroke, and others.  Secondhand smoke causes over 40,000 deaths in United States every year.  Children of smokers have more ear infections and respiratory illnesses such as asthma and bronchitis and infants exposed to parents who smoke have a greater risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome.  Of course, secondhand smoke isn’t as bad as a person smoking themselves, but it is still hazardous nonetheless.

Lots of people will do things like blowing smoke in the other direction or rolling down the car window or blowing smoke out of the house window and while these are probably better than not doing that when it comes to secondhand smoke, they are still not effective in protecting the people around them from secondhand smoke.  Also, air cleaners and other technologies that filter out smoke or cleanse the air, they don’t entirely eliminate the secondhand smoke. 

There is also the issue of third-hand smoke where dangerous chemicals from the smoke end up settling on clothing and furniture, which can linger there for months.  The thing is that the smoke residue which stays on the walls, carpets, and other surfaces they can react with a common indoor air pollutant called nitrous oxide, and when those two react, they can form nitrosamines that persist for months and these nitrosamines are carcinogens.  So, this is another reason why it is so important for people to quit smoking.  It is not just for their own health but it is also for the health of those around them.

Smoking costs a lot of money (Reasons to quit smoking)

If you quit smoking you would save money, probably a lot of money. The cheapest cigarettes are in Missouri, with the average price being $5 per pack. So if you’re a 1 PPD smoker, that’s $1,800 per year. If you live in NY, that would be double the price, so $3,600 per year.

Benefits of Quitting Smoking

Now, at this point, you probably already know the benefits of quitting, but the sooner you quit, the greater the benefit. It doesn’t matter how long or how heavy you smoked, the sooner you quit the better.  We know that former smokers live longer compared to people who continue to smoke. 

They also have lower rates of lung disease, cancer, stroke, and heart disease.  Now, some might wonder what if I already have a smoking-related illness.  Well, no matter what it is, your illness and overall health will be better if you quit smoking.  Let me give you an example when it comes to someone having a heart attack. 

Smokers who stop after a heart attack are less likely to have another heart attack and are less likely to die from heart disease.  Also, lots of times, especially as we get older, people need surgery.  Someone who does not smoke even if they used to smoke is better equipped to heal and is less likely to have complications related to surgery or complications related to the anesthesia.  Another benefit of quitting is that you have more money, and actually, this is a big motivation for a lot of people to quit smoking because it is so expensive.

What Happens When you Quit Smoking?

So, let’s talk about what happens when you do quit smoking.  Within a day, your body will clear all the carbon monoxide from your system and when that happens, your blood specifically your hemoglobin carries oxygen more efficiently and ultimately delivers oxygen to all your tissues in your body more efficiently.  Within a week, your breath gets better; hair, fingers, teeth are cleaner; you have a better sense of taste and smell. 

Once you hit that week mark, you are no longer experiencing the worst of the withdrawal symptoms usually.  After about a month of quitting, the cilia in your airways in your lungs begin to recover and remove more mucus from your lungs.  Cilia are tiny microscopic hair-like structures that line the airways.  You also notice that within a month of quitting smoking, there will be less sinus congestion, and also there will be likely less fatigue and likely less shortness of breath. 

After a year of quitting smoking, your risk of having a heart attack or stroke becomes reduced.  After a few years of quitting, the risk of heart disease is half of that of a smoker.  Also after a few years of quitting, the risk of lung cancer decreases.  After 10 years of quitting, the risk of lung cancer death is reduced by 50% compared to those who continue to smoke.  After 15 years of quitting, the risk of heart disease is the same as a nonsmoker’s.

Most people know that smoking is bad for health, that is not exactly breaking news.  But why is it so hard for people to quit, what are the obstacles that are preventing them from quitting.  Most smokers wish they could just snap their fingers and quit smoking and be done with it already.  So, let’s talk about the obstacles that people need to overcome in order to quit smoking.

One of the biggest obstacles that people need to overcome is the physical withdrawal of nicotine.  Nicotine is very addictive and withdrawing from the chemical causes physical changes to occur in the body, especially the brain.  The withdrawal symptoms typically start within a few hours of the last cigarette and symptoms include difficulty concentrating, feeling tired, anxious, and irritable.  So, this is the biggest hurdle for smokers to overcome, and these symptoms tend to be severe for at least two or three days after quitting.  The withdrawal symptoms then tend to gradually wane over the course of a month or so.

So, without question, physical withdrawal is the biggest hurdle, but then there is also the mental withdrawal.  This is because smoking is typically a part of someone’s daily routine.  They are so used to having a cigarette after a meal or having a cigarette with their coffee or having a cigarette first thing in the morning.  These are all habits, and these habits are typically hard to break.  Another obstacle is overcoming emotions.  We all have anger, frustration, boredom, and some people handle these emotions in different ways.  Lots of people handle these emotions by smoking cigarettes.  Often what happens is when that person has emotional distress, that serves as a trigger to light up a cigarette.

Another obstacle to overcome is the reality that when someone quits, they will be expected to gain on average 5, maybe 10 pounds.  Why does this happen?  Well, nicotine reduces appetite and it revs up the body’s metabolism.  So, when you no longer have nicotine in your system, the opposite happens.  Also, when people quit, they often substitute food for cigarettes, in order to get that mini dopamine rush to feel better.  So, of course, it’s always a great idea to have a daily exercise program whether someone smokes or not, but it is all the more important to start a daily exercise program for people who plan on quitting smoking, because this will minimize their weight gain.

Also, nicotine withdrawal symptoms in women of childbearing age, are worse during the premenstrual phase and during menses.  This is why it is probably better for them to quit at the end of their period.

What about Vaping?

Lot of people are trying to quit smoking cigarettes by turning to electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, AKA vaping.  So, vaping entails using a battery powered device which vaporizes a solution of nicotine that is dissolved in water and propylene glycol.  Propylene glycol is a fluid that helps nicotine dissolve.  So, an e-cigarette gives a person the feeling of smoking but without the tar and without the carbon monoxide or the thousands of other substances that are in tobacco smoke.  But is this a good alternative to smoking cigarettes? 

It is probably better but far from ideal.  The long-term effects of e-cigarettes are still unknown.  Since they are relatively new products, e-cigarettes have not yet been studied enough, but some studies indicate that they can help smokers to quit smoking regular cigarettes without causing harm.  In one study, they were shown to be more or just as effective for quitting smoking compared to nicotine replacement products, but that was just one study, so we are still not sure yet. 

They have not been compared to any other medications approved for smoking cessation such as varenicline or bupropion.  At this time, most experts recommend using FDA-approved medications for smoking cessation rather than e-cigarettes because their safety and efficacy is well established.  If a person does decide to choose e-cigarettes to help with quitting, it is important that they switch completely to e-cigarettes and stop using their regular cigarettes. 

This is because using both together is not likely to reduce health risks nearly as much as a complete switch.  Of course, it is best not to smoke anything or vape anything.  A lot of people wonder or ask about vaping lung disease and that is a whole another topic.  If that is something you are interested in knowing more about, I can make a separate video for that.  So, just let me know.

Dr. Mike Hansen, MD
Internal
Medicine | Pulmonary Disease | Critical Care Medicine

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