Is smoking bad for your health?
Since at least the 1950s, health experts have linked smoking to lung cancer. Research continues to pinpoint more ways tobacco harms your health, from cancers to chronic (long-term) diseases.
Experts estimate that 16 million Americans live with a disease caused by smoking. Every year, roughly 480,000 people die from smoking-related diseases. That means that for every person who dies from smoking, at least 30 others live with a serious smoking-related illness.
Are other forms of tobacco safer?
Many people believe that smoking a cigar is safer than smoking a cigarette. But, cigar smokers face many of the same potential risks as cigarette smokers, including cancer. Chewing tobacco or smokeless tobacco products are not safer than cigarettes, either. Smokeless tobacco contains almost 30 cancer-causing chemicals.
E-cigarettes (vapes), an emerging form of nicotine delivery, differ from traditional tobacco products. Vaping delivers more concentrated nicotine than cigarettes in a smokeless inhaled mist (vapor). Health risks from vape products range from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer.
How does smoking affect your body?
Tobacco use harms every organ in your body. Smoking tobacco introduces not only nicotine but also more than 5,000 chemicals, including numerous carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals), into your lungs, blood and organs.
The damage caused by smoking can shorten your lifespan significantly. In fact, smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States.
Pregnant women who smoke put their unborn babies at risk, too. Possible effects on pregnancy include:
- Ectopic pregnancy, a life-threatening condition when the embryo implants outside the uterus.
- Birth defects, such as cleft palate.
- Low birth weight.
How does chewing tobacco affect your health?
Smokeless tobacco can cause nicotine addiction. People who use chewing tobacco may develop cancers of the mouth, esophagus and pancreas. And chewing tobacco causes gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss.
Is vaping safer than smoking a cigarette?
The safety and dangers of e-cigarettes remain unclear. Many e-cigarettes contain high amounts of nicotine. And vaping may be a gateway into other forms of nicotine, like cigarettes or chewing tobacco.
E-cigarette vapors contain other damaging substances, too. Inhaling these non-nicotine vape ingredients may cause severe, sometimes deadly lung damage (called EVALI).
How are health problems from tobacco diagnosed?
Diagnosis depends on your specific symptoms. For example, a smokeless tobacco user who develops stomach cancer from swallowing juice with nicotine in it will need different tests than a person who inhales smoke.
If you smoke, your healthcare provider will ask for details about your tobacco use, physically examine you and sometimes order tests (like an X-ray to check for organ damage or an electrocardiogram and other heart-related tests).
What other conditions may be caused or worsened by tobacco?
In addition to its known cancer risks, smoking causes many other chronic (long-term) health problems that need ongoing care. Specific smoking-related problems that need treatment include:
- Decreased HDL (good) cholesterol and increased blood pressure (increasing risks for heart attack and stroke).
- Erectile dysfunction.
- Lower oxygen to the heart and other tissues in the body (increasing risks for coronary artery disease, peripheral artery disease, and diabetes).
- More frequent routine illnesses like colds, especially in children living with smokers.
- Poorer lung function (ability to get enough oxygen) leading to COPD, asthma, bronchitis, or emphysema.
How can a disease caused by smoking be treated?
Most diseases caused by smoking can be managed by a healthcare provider. You might need:
- A cardiologist (heart doctor) to treat any damage to your heart.
- A lung specialist to treat breathing problems, like COPD.
- An oncology team to treat any cancers you may develop.
How can I avoid getting sick from smoking?
The best way to avoid getting sick from smoking is to never start. If you do smoke, quitting as soon as possible can prevent or reverse health problems. Without smoking, you can:
- Live longer.
- Reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Reduce your risk of developing a variety of other conditions.
- Feel healthier and have more energy.
- Look and feel better.
- Improve your sense of taste and smell.
- Save money.
How can I quit smoking?
There are many different ways to quit smoking. To succeed, you have to find a smoking cessation plan that works for your personality. You need to be ready emotionally and mentally. You should want to quit smoking for yourself and not just for family or friends exposed to your secondhand smoke.
When you decide to quit, these pointers can help:
- Get rid of all cigarettes and anything related to smoking, like lighters and ashtrays.
- Live with another smoker? Ask them not to smoke near you or convince them to quit with you.
- When the cravings hit, don’t focus on them. Cravings are temporary, so focus on why you want to quit instead.
- Keep yourself busy and find things to do with your hands — doodling or playing with a pencil or straw. Change any activities connected to smoking, too. Take a walk or read a book instead of taking a cigarette break.
- When you get the urge to smoke, take a deep breath. Hold it for ten seconds and release it slowly. Repeat this several times until the urge to smoke is gone. You can also try meditation to reduce baseline stress levels.
- Avoid places, people and situations you associate with smoking. Hang out with nonsmokers or go places that don't allow smoking (like movies, museums, shops or libraries).
- Don't substitute food or sugar-based products for cigarettes. These can cause weight gain. Instead, choose low-calorie, healthy foods. Try carrot or celery sticks, sugar-free hard candies or gum.
- Drink plenty of fluids, but limit alcoholic and caffeinated beverages. They can trigger urges to smoke.
- Remind yourself that you are a nonsmoker, and you don't smoke.
- Don’t forget to exercise, because it has health benefits and help you relax.
If I have been smoking for a while, is it too late to quit?
Smoking cessation, at any age, will improve your health. Years of smoking damage can reverse with time.
When you quit, benefits happen almost immediately:
- After 20 minutes, your blood pressure and heart rate drop, and the temperature of your hands and feet increases. Plus, you stop polluting the air.
- After eight hours, your blood will contain lower levels of carbon monoxide and higher levels of oxygen.
- After 24 hours, your heart attack risk decreases.
- After 48 hours, your nerve endings adjust to the absence of nicotine, and you begin to regain your ability to taste and smell.
- After two weeks to three months, your circulation improves, and you can tolerate more exercise.
- After one to nine months, your overall energy level increases, and you cough less. Plus, sinus congestion, fatigue and shortness of breath decrease.
- After one year, your risk of heart disease cuts in half compared to a current smoker.
- After five to 15 years, your risk of stroke lowers to that of people who never smoked.
- After 10 years, your risk of dying from lung cancer drops to almost the same rate as a lifelong nonsmoker. Plus, you decrease the risk of other cancers.
- After 15 years, your risk of heart disease finally reaches that of people who never smoked.
What help is there to quit smoking?
When you’re ready to quit smoking, you have a lot of supportive resources to choose from. Medical clinics, local pharmacies and support groups like Nicotine Anonymous are ready to help you quit. Apps and websites offer encouragement and accountability when you try to quit.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Choosing to quit smoking is a huge step toward living a healthy life. Though it may feel insurmountable, it’s not. Quitting is the right thing to do for your health.
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