A few studies have stumbled onto some benefits of smoking. Some evidence suggests that smoking may have a protective effect against certain conditions, such as ulcerative colitis and Parkinson’s disease.
Despite this evidence, the negative effects of smoking still far outweigh any of the benefits. Being a smoker puts you and those around you in danger of many serious, confirmed health risks.
Here’s what you need to know about the “benefits” of smoking.
It’s important to understand that the term “benefits” is used loosely. They don’t actually change much in the big picture of your health.
1. Smoking may lower risk of knee replacement
The researchers were quick to point out that while this wasn’t the only study to link smoking to a lower risk of osteoarthritis, smoking has been linked to far more serious diseases. These include heart disease, stroke, and cancer. They all lead to premature death.
2. Smoking may lower risk of Parkinson’s disease
Several studies have found a connection between smoking and a lower risk of Parkinson’s disease.
The most recent study, published in 2010, involved 305,468 people between the ages of 50 and 71. Current smokers were 44 percent less likely to develop the disease. Those who had smoked for at least 40 years were 46 percent less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
Smoking didn’t appear to slow progression of the disease or lower the risk of death. The point of the study was to lead to a better understanding of the causes of the disease. But given the many serious consequences of smoking, taking up the habit to lower your risk wasn’t advised by researchers.
3. Smoking may lower risk of obesity
In the 1930s, smoking was marketed to women as a way to lose weight, suggesting that they “reach for a cigarette instead of a sweet.” Over the years, there’ve been many studies connecting nicotine to a reduced appetite and weight loss. Others have linked quitting smoking to weight gain.
But while excess weight carries its own health risks, cigarette smoke is extremely toxic. The overall death rate among smokers in the United States is about three times higher than for those who’ve never smoked, estimates the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But they note quitting before age 40 reduces this risk by 90 percent.
To naturally decrease the risk of obesity, do the following:
- Increase your physical activity. Take a walk, swim, or bike for at least 20 minutes every day.
- Decrease your screen time — find activities you enjoy that also make you move.
- Eat a diet full of fruits and veggies, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats.
4. Smoking may lower risk of death after some heart attacks
A 2005 study found that smoking may lower the risk of death after some heart attacks. But the important thing to keep in mind here is that smokers often have heart attacks earlier in life. They tend to survive longer because of their younger age.
Another study published in 2013 backs this up with findings that older smokers had significantly higher risks of recurrent heart attacks and death. This supports the importance of quitting smoking, regardless of age.
5. Smoking may alleviate ulcerative colitis
Research has found that smoking may lower the risk of developing ulcerative colitis and improve its symptoms. But it also increases the risk and severity of Crohn’s disease, another inflammatory bowel disease.
Why smoking seems to have a positive impact on one condition and not the other isn’t known. Smoking’s benefit on ulcerative colitis seems to come from nicotine. While other forms of nicotine therapy are being evaluated for their benefits for people with ulcerative colitis, smoking isn’t recommended as treatment because of its many known and dangerous effects.
To manage ulcerative colitis in a healthier way, you can:
- Eliminate alcohol, dairy, processed foods, high-carbohydrate foods, and sugar alcohols from your diet.
- Add vitamin C-rich foods like berries, spinach, and bell peppers to your diet.
- Treat symptoms with herbal remedies containing psyllium seed, Boswellia, bromelain, probiotics, turmeric, and ginkgo biloba.
6. Smoking may reduce stress... but it’s unclear
Can smoking reduce stress?
A few studies have explored if cigarette smoking reduces stress levels. The evidence is unclear. One study notes smokers have a reduction of perceived stress and a decrease in arousal levels associated with stress. However, other studies show that at baseline, smokers have higher levels of stress and anxiety compared to nonsmokers. And when smokers stop smoking, their perceived stress significantly lowers.Alanna Biggers, MD, MPHAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.
According to the National Cancer Institute, tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 250 of those are known to be harmful. Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. It’s responsible for nearly half a million deaths each year in the United States alone, says the CDC.
Side effects of smoking include an increased risk of developing:
- cancers, including lung, head and neck, esophagus, colon, and others
- heart disease and stroke
- chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- rheumatoid arthritis
The risks also extend to nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke has been proven to significantly increase the risk of premature death, cancers, and heart disease. Children who are exposed to tobacco smoke are at an increased risk of:
Along with a higher risk of disease, other side effects of smoking include:
- anxiety and irritability
- poor oral health
- impaired sense of smell and taste
- premature aging and wrinkles
- erectile dysfunction
- early menopause
- yellow fingernails
- vision problems
Regardless of these “benefits,” smoking has a negative impact on every part of your body. It significantly raises your risk of serious diseases and early death. The devastating effects of smoking far outnumber the few benefits — most of which aren’t confirmed or fully understood.
Quitting can help reverse some of these effects, improve your quality of life, and help you live longer.