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Side Effects of Smoking
Tobacco smoking is a common form of recreation that kills many people each day, yet it is still legal regardless of all the several studies that substantiate the risks of tobacco smoking, the side effects of smoking cigarettes, and the detrimental health complications that come with second-hand smoke. There are many ways how tobacco affects the body and how smoking can kill you. Let’s take a look at some of the side effects of smoking.
Smoking and cancer are highly related, and a single cigarette contains a lot of carcinogens – which are chemicals that can cause direct damages to genes and promote the development of cancer cells.
There are a lot of carcinogens identified in tobacco smoke, and many of them are classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as Group 1 carcinogens (carcinogens that are already proven with enough data to be destructive and cancer-causing agents to humans), including formaldehyde, cadmium, beryllium, and arsenic.
Formaldehyde can be found in common chemicals such as adhesives and fungicides, and it is also a chemical that is used for preservation in morgues. A 2009 study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute shows how formaldehyde exposure is significantly related to increased mortality rates of people who worked within the funeral industry to diseases including brain cancer and myeloid leukemia.
In 1982, researchers also observed the carcinogenic properties of formaldehyde and how it caused the development of nasal cancer in Sprague-Dawley rats.
Some people are familiar with the misconception that nicotine is the primary carcinogen in tobacco, and this misconception led to some people discouraging the effectiveness of Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT).
However, there are recent studies that already prove how nicotine facilitates the delivery of carcinogens from tobacco to the body and how nicotine from cigarettes causes damages to cells.
It has already been observed how nicotine can modify gene expressions and contribute to epithelial-mesenchymal transition, a process that is crucial to cancer metastasis.
It is also shown how nicotine disrupts immune system responses that are important to prevent abnormal cell growth, thus making treatment of cancer a lot harder.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has estimated around 40% of people within the United States diagnosed with cancer between 2009 to 2013 are related to tobacco smoking.
Because cigarettes contain a lot of carcinogens that directly attack the genes, smoking can lead to birth defects and complications. It is highly advised for pregnant women to stay away from smoking, including second-hand smoke and alcohol, before and during pregnancy.
Tobacco smoke increases infant morbidity and is fatal to a baby as it damages the baby’s organs while still developing in the womb. Tobacco usage during pregnancy increases the likelihood of premature birth and the baby’s chances of having congenital defects.
For men, smoking reduces blood flow to the sexual organs, leading to impotence and erectile dysfunction. Carcinogens in tobacco also cause damage and mutations to the sperm’s genetic structure, making it more likely to pass damaged DNA to an offspring.
Other than cancer, birth defects, and the other health risks of cigarette smoking, lungs are the most severely affected. Chemicals from tobacco smoke deal big damage to the air sacs and airways, making the lungs more prone to diseases such as bronchitis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
The majority of lung cancer cases are caused by cigarettes, which is a very deadly form of cancer as cancer cells from the lungs can easily metastasize to vital parts such as the brain, making it very difficult to treat.
Stroke and Heart Disease
Smoking can also increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Carbon monoxide from tobacco smoke decreases oxygen levels in the blood, and nicotine increases heart rate and blood pressure.
A 2019 meta-analysis shows how smokers developed a high overall risk of stroke compared to subjects who do not smoke. Another 2018 meta-analysis also shows how smokers have a higher risk of atrial fibrillation in comparison to non-smokers.
The effects of tobacco smoke in platelets also increase the chances of developing blood clots, especially within arteries that are closely connected to the brain. This can interrupt the blood flow to the brain and lead to brain damage or ischemic stroke, which accounts for 87% of cases of stroke.
Smoking also increases levels of triglycerides, which is a form of fat in the bloodstream and lowers HDL or healthy cholesterol levels in the body. Altogether, this increases the risk of developing atherosclerosis or plaque buildup in the bloodstream, which can also lead to ischemic stroke.
Smoking damages the lower esophageal sphincter, which is a part of the stomach that is responsible for keeping stomach acids away from the esophagus. This increases the risk of acid reflux, which leads to heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux disease or GERD.
GERD is associated with chronic reflux and continuous damage to the cells of the esophagus. If untreated, GERD can increase a smoker’s risk of esophageal cancer and ulcers.
Smoking also increases susceptibility to peptic ulcers and slows down their healing. It also damages the lining of the stomach and the duodenum and slows down healing as well by hindering the production of acid-neutralizing substances and blood flow.
Harmful chemicals in tobacco can also lead to progressive liver diseases by damaging the bile ducts and cells in the liver, resulting in biliary cirrhosis. They also damage liver cells by improving the production of cytokines and increase the susceptibility of people with Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C to hepatocellular carcinoma in the liver.
Tobacco smoking also has a direct relationship with bone density loss and osteoporosis. It is also known to negatively affect the healing process for people who had fractures.
While nicotine is the primary stimulant that makes cigarettes addictive, the biggest reason why tobacco is bad for health is the combustion process that releases all the dangerous chemicals.
Cigarette companies are taking steps on how to make smoking safer while being enjoyable, and they start with eliminating the combustion process out of the equation.
However, many of these innovative solutions are not completely safe alternatives to tobacco smoking. Several studies confirm the presence of chemicals associated with several health risks of tobacco use.
Menthol and Lights
There are varieties of cigarettes, such as light cigarettes that claim to have less tar than the regular ones, and mentholated cigarettes, which give a similar cooling sensation as menthol when smoked.
Given these changes in flavor and content, they still share all the carcinogens and deadly chemicals that are inherent to regular cigarettes. Menthol and light cigarettes only improve the risk factors of smoking.
Because the chemical absorbed by the body while smoking will depend on how frequently cigarettes are puffed and the volume of the smoke that is pulled into the lungs, light and menthol cigarettes can only worsen the problem by tempting smokers to inhale more.
It is also tested that menthol cigarettes directly facilitate the delivery of nicotine, and using flavor to mask cigarettes and suit a smoker’s preference can only improve nicotine metabolism, making it harder for smokers to quit.
Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigarettes)
Electronic cigarettes and vaping have gained popularity in the past few years, especially to people who are either trying to quit smoking or finding ways to enjoy risk-free smoking. They rely on propylene glycol and flavoring and can be used without nicotine.
Since electronic cigarettes have no tobacco, they do not contain most of the chemicals or carcinogens associated with smoking standard cigarettes. There is still skepticism in the scientific community with regards to vaping and electronic cigarettes, given the lack of data and research to confirm if they have the long term effects of tobacco. However, this does not make electronic cigarettes safe as they also rely on aerosols.
A 2017 study published in Nature also demonstrates the DNA-damaging effects of electronic cigarettes on the chromosomal level and gene level. Aerosols coming from electronic cigarettes can significantly affect the physiology of the lungs, and electronic cigarette users can still be susceptible to pulmonary and cardiovascular diseases.
Heated Tobacco Products
Heated Tobacco Products are one of the attempts of cigarette companies to reduce the number of chemicals in cigarettes. They do not require combustion to work, and the flavor is released without hitting the flashpoint of tobacco.
Heated Tobacco Products like the IQOS work on significantly lower temperatures compared to the standard cigarette. However, it is important to highlight that Heated Tobacco Products only reduce the number of toxic chemicals, but they do not get rid of them entirely.
The World Health Organization labels heated tobacco products as inherently toxic, and the products do not eliminate the effects of tobacco.
While there is slightly less nicotine on heated tobacco products compared to conventional cigarettes, a 2017 paper shows that carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, and other carcinogens, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, are still present in the IQOS.
The World Health Organization has a public information sheet that further discusses the dangers and worldwide regulation for Heated Tobacco Products.
Smoking has already harmed countless lives, but it is never too late to quit smoking – and it all starts through management. While some smokers resort to alternatives like heated tobacco products and e-cigarettes as the first step to quitting smoking, they can only be effective when coupled with behavioral support. This also applies to withdrawal management strategies such as nicotine replacement therapy and medication.
People who are currently terminally ill because of smoking do not deserve to face their suffering alone. They should be constantly reminded that they can still enjoy happy lives despite the circumstances.
In All American Hospice, we have highly-trained hospice professionals who can provide essential palliative care for terminally-ill patients.
We also believe that affected family members should also live positive lives in the middle of a crisis. All American Hospice provides assistance and training for affected family members on how to provide the right care for their loved ones while maintaining balance in life.
Our routine home care services provide the following:
- Diagnostics and lab work
- Speech, occupational, and physical therapy
- Medications, medical equipment, and supplies
- A medical social worker who can provide assistance and emotional support
- Scheduled visits from a home health aide by 2-3 times per week
- Scheduled visits from registered nurses by 1-3 times per week
If it is not possible for the patient to get the treatment at home, we also provide an inpatient care plan to make sure nurses are available 24 hours a day until the patient is finally advised to be back at home.