There are the things you can’t ignore—bad breath, yellow teeth, stained fingers and lips, age spots, and wrinkles. Then there are the things you cannot see—the steep increased risk for lung cancer, emphysema, fertility problems, heart disease, and stroke. If you are a smoker who is thinking of quitting or has tried to quit before, chances are you already know all the reasons why you should.
Smoking crosses all racial, gender, and socioeconomic lines. According to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 46 million American adults smoke—more than 20 percent of the adult population. (That is down from 24 percent 10 years ago.) More men light up than women—23 percent of men compared to 19 percent of women. And it is not just adults. Nearly a quarter of high school students in the U.S. smoke cigarettes.
What is in a Cigarette?
Cigarettes are made with dried tobacco leaves that naturally contain the drug nicotine. Cigarette manufacturers add chemicals like ammonia, tar, lead, and cyanide and other ingredients, like cocoa, coffee, and menthol, to change the flavor of the tobacco in an attempt to make smoking more enjoyable. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), more than 4,000 different chemicals have been identified in cigarettes and cigarette smoke. Of those 4,000 chemicals, 60 are known to cause cancer. These cancer-causing chemicals are called carcinogens.
Until recently, cigarette companies were not required to make public a list of the ingredients that were added to their cigarettes, so scientists have been unable to determine what, if any, effects all these additives might have on a person’s health. Recently passed federal legislation now requires cigarette manufacturers to provide the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with a list of additives in their cigarettes. A list of harmful or dangerous chemicals found in each cigarette will be made public for consumers by or before June 2011. For the most part, tobacco products are unregulated—unlike medications, spirits, and most foods—which means their potential health risks, beyond what we already know from years of consumer use, are still being discovered.
Smoking, Pregnancy, and Fertility
Smoking and tobacco use affect reproduction and fertility. Research shows that men who smoke have lower sperm counts, and the sperm they do have is often misshapen and has a harder time moving—making conceiving more difficult. Experts also believe smoking affects sperm DNA which may lead to developmental and physical health problems in a child.
For women who are pregnant and still smoking, you are damaging the health and future health of your unborn child. Babies born to mothers who smoke are about 30 percent more likely to be born prematurely, and those who do make it full term are more likely to have a low birth weight. Babies born to mothers who smoked during pregnancy are also at a greater risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Smoking and Disease Risk
The leading cause of death in American men and women is heart disease. Smoking increases your risk for heart disease two to four times compared to a nonsmoker. The same thing goes for your risk of stroke. Smoking narrows your blood vessels and arteries. This may lead to peripheral artery disease (PAD)—the obstruction of the large arteries in your arms and legs. If you continue to smoke, PAD can cause a range of complications including pain, muscle determination, and eventually muscle death.
Smoke damages your lungs and your airways, putting you at greater risk for respiratory disease. In men, the risk of developing lung cancer increases 23 times if you are a smoker. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women, and smoking increases a woman’s chance of the disease 13 times that of nonsmokers. Most smokers will also develop a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)—one of a few diseases, like bronchitis or emphysema, that block airflow into and out of your lungs, making breathing increasingly difficult.
Smoking and Death
Smoking remains the number one cause of preventable disease and death in American adults. In addition, second-hand smoke kills tens of thousands of people who never took a single puff in their lives each year. On average, smokers die 13 to 14 years earlier than nonsmokers. If you don’t quit, you could be one of the estimated 443,000 adults who die each year from a disease or complication attributable to smoking.
Here’s some good news, though: The moment you are no longer a smoker, your risks for many diseases and health complications begin to fall. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, one year after you smoke your last cigarette, your increased risk of heart disease is reduced by half. Fifteen years later, the risk for heart disease is similar to that of people who’ve never lit up. The same is true for the risk of stroke. Your health and the fate of your health are not set in stone. You can change your future by making the decision to quit.