Despite stop smoking campaigns and extensive warnings from health authorities, the total number of smokers worldwide is still growing. This is due to the rising numbers from developing countries where cigarette smoking particularly among the youth is increasing rapidly, largely overshadowing the declining figures from developed countries.
The government warnings on tobacco packaging seem ineffective both in discouraging people from picking up the habit, and encouraging people to stop smoking. Laying out the bad effects of cigarettes on the different organs of the body might do a better job of convincing people to stay away from cigarettes.
Effects on the lungs and respiratory system
It is well-known that smoking primarily harms the body’s respiratory system, which consists of the nasal and oral cavities, airways, lungs, and diaphragm. Respiration involves bringing in of oxygen from outside air to the cells, and bringing out of carbon dioxide from the cells.
The respiratory system is harmed by every cigarette puff as chemical-laden air is brought into the body instead of oxygen; the chemicals in the smoke pass through the airways and ultimately end up in the lungs’ alveoli. Thus, nicotine and 4,000 other harmful and addictive chemicals – including 60 suspected cancer-causing substances – are absorbed into the body and accumulate as one continues inhaling tobacco smoke.
The chemical build-up usually leads to dreaded respiratory diseases such as tuberculosis, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) consisting of chronic bronchitis and emphysema as well as non-fatal illnesses like smoker’s coughs and colds. Ninety percent of lung cancer cases are directly traced to long-term exposure to cigarette smoke.
Smoking harms other organs too
Aside from organs of the respiratory system, cigarette puffing also harms other parts of the body; smoking makes the body vulnerable and increases the risk of contracting health conditions that are less likely to occur to non-smokers. From premature ageing of the skin and teeth-staining to blindness-inducing macular degeneration and osteoporosis, the adverse effects of smoking to one’s health are real and rather encompassing.
Effects on the vascular system
Current statistics indicate that one in five deaths from heart disease in the US is directly linked to tobacco smoking. High blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and smoking damage the thin layer of cells lining the arteries, causing cholesterol to build-up and form plaques on the artery walls. The build-up goes on for years, causing the blocking and weakening (atherosclerosis) of coronary arteries that result in reduced supply of oxygen to the heart (ischemia), ultimately leading to heart attack or stroke.
Studies show that the likelihood of heart attacks increases as the number of cigarettes smoked by a person adds up over time. Moreover, nicotine is also known to constrict blood vessels, forcing the heart work harder. Conversely, the risk of cardiovascular diseases goes down substantially if a smoker decides to stop smoking.
Vascular diseases also cause problems in other organs away from the heart. Seventy percent of physical-cause erectile dysfunction cases are traced to inadequate blood flow to the penis due to atherosclerosis.
Peripheral vascular disease (PVD) happens when leg muscles do not get enough blood and oxygen. This results in intermittent pain when walking or climbing stairs, cramps during sleep, buttocks pain, soreness in the foot that will not heal, numbness or tingling sensation in the legs, or burning pain while resting. The risk of developing PVD increases three to five times for smokers and symptoms usually manifest ten years earlier compared to non-smokers. The progress of PVD also slows down considerably when one opts to quit smoking.
Effects on other organs
Due to the many carcinogens present in tobacco, smoking is also a risk factor in developing cancer in almost all the organs in the abdominal cavity, including liver, kidney, stomach and colon. The correlation between the number of years of cigarette use with the likelihood of developing these cancers has been well-researched and documented in many studies.
Regular smoking weakens the body’s immune system and makes it susceptible to autoimmune diseases like lupus (chronic swelling of tissues) and rheumatoid arthritis. Autoimmune diseases occur when the body mistakes other cells as pathogens (foreign agents) and triggers the autoimmune system to attack the suspected cells. Cigarette smoke is one of the known triggers of lupus and arthritis and consequently, the chance of setting-off these illnesses is less when one decides to give up smoking.
Long-term tobacco smoking causes premature ageing of the body’s biggest organ – the skin. Other skin conditions strongly associated with smoking include Buerger's disease, psoriasis and gingivitis, while smokers are found to be predisposed to oral yeast infections.
The Demographics of Tobacco
Tobacco packaging warning messages
Smoking and Heart Disease
Peripheral vascular disease
Tobacco Use and Skin Disease: Indirect Effects of Cigarette Smoking