Let’s not mince words: nearly everyone knows now that cigarette smoking is extremely harmful to the health of anyone who does it. This sample health paper explores how cigarette smoking increases your likelihood of contracting certain diseases, and gradually destroys your skin, your tooth enamel, and your lungs. But in what specific ways does it affect the human body, and can these effects be reversed?
Physical health impaired by tobacco consumption
Among the cancers that smokers have an increased chance of contracting include:
- Cancer of the oropharynx, larynx, and esophagus
- Cancer of the trachea, bronchus, and lungs
- Cancer of the stomach, liver, pancreas, kidneys, cervix, bladder, and rectum
Chronic diseases whose progression or contraction have been shown to be connected to cigarette smoking are numerous; among them are:
- Macular degeneration
- Congenital birth defects
- Heart diseases
- Abdominal aortic atherosclerosis
- Coronary heart disease
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Reduced fertility
- Etopic pregnancy
- Erectile dysfunction
- Hip fractures
- Rheumatoid arthritis
The CDC noted that almost one in five deaths in the United States alone are attributable to smoking – this is roughly equal to 480,000 deaths annually, more than human immunodeficiency virus, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, and firearm-related deaths combined (2015).
To further put smoking-related deaths into perspective, consider that the number of United States citizens who have died from cigarette smoking and complications is 10 times as many people who died in service to our country during all the wars fought by the United States since its inception (CDC).
While not all lung cancer deaths are attributable to smoking, nine out of ten are; this means that 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths are due to smoking (CDC). Among women, the numbers are particularly high, perhaps due to preconceived notions propagated by society and the media (such as that smoking is sexy or keeps a woman thin).
More women are killed each year by smoking than are killed by breast cancer, and about 80 percent of all COPD deaths are caused by smoking cigarettes (CDC). The risk of cigarette smoking-induced death in the United States has actually increased over the past 50 years for members of both sexes, and it increases death from all causes for everyone (CDC).
Global mortality rates among tobacco users
Global smoking statistics are compiled annually by the World Health Organization (WHO), as well, and indicate that tobacco kills nearly half of its users worldwide, and 6 million people each year (WHOIt should be noted that 5 million plus of these deaths are from direct tobacco use, and 600,000 plus are from non-smoker exposure to second-hand smoke – the majority of whom are the smoker’s family or co-workers (WHO).
Almost 80 percent of the one billion smokers worldwide reside in poverty countries (WHO). The cost to smokers is not only their own lives, but the income, health care, and economic development of their spouses, children, and grandchildren (WHO). Employment on tobacco farms is common for poor children in certain countries and they are more susceptible to “green tobacco sickness” which is caused by the absorption of nicotine into the sick during the handling of wet tobacco leaves (WHO).
Diseases associated with smokers
For a general idea of how much smoking can increase the risk of contracting diseases, the following breakdown is helpful:
- Coronary heart disease risk increases 2 to 4 times
- Stroke risk increases 2 to 4 times
- Male lung cancer increases 25 times
- Female lung cancer increases 25.7 times
Monitoring of tobacco use through:
“nationally representative youth and adult surveys at least every five years is currently only practiced in one out of three countries in the world. The 4,000 plus chemicals found in tobacco smoke include at least 250 which are harmful and 50 which cause cancer” (WHO).
There is no such thing as a “safe” level of second-hand smoke exposure, and the prevalence of smoke-free laws encourage the health of the population in general where they have been enacted – some 1.3 billion people are protected through these laws (WHO). There is no smoking cessation assistance at all in ¼ of low-income countries on the planet, and national comprehensive smoking cessation services provided free of cost or at low cost are available in only 24 countries (WHO).
Smokeless tobacco and harmful effects
Although smokeless tobacco (often known as “chewing” tobacco or snuff) is less lethal than smoking tobacco, it is still unsafe and destruction to the health of human beings (ACS). The various types of smokeless tobacco include chewing, oral, or spit tobacco; snuff or dipping tobacco; and dissolvable tobacco (ACS). Chewing tobacco comes in different forms, such as loose leaves, plugs, or twists of dry tobacco which may or may not be flavored.
The chew is placed between the cheek and the gum or the teeth; the tobacco then soaks into the mouth’s tissues and the tobacco user spits out or swallows the brown saliva that results periodically (ACS). Snuff or dipping tobacco is finely ground tobacco leaves which come in cans or pouches; snuff can be dry or moist, and the dry type is inhaled through the nose like cocaine (ACS).
Snus is common in Sweden and Norway and is fruit-flavored and packaged in tea-like bags; it is placed next to the gum and tobacco-infused saliva is swallowed (ACS, 2015). Finally, dissolvable tobacco is available in lozenges, orbs, pellets, strips, and toothpick-sized sticks – they resemble candy in many cases may contain sweeteners (ACS). This latest incarnation of tobacco products is clearly aimed at a new generation of users who dislike tobacco smoke and its effects. These food replications also have been known to cause eating disorders and dieting concerns among users.
Health impact of smokeless tobacco
In general smokers and smokeless tobacco users obtain the same amount of nicotine from either process; known cancer-causing chemicals are infused into both forms of tobacco, as well (ACS). Smokeless tobacco contains tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), and its levels vary by product – the higher the level of these nitrosamines, the higher the risk of cancer in users, as noted by the ACS. The most common types of cancer caused by smokeless tobacco are that of the mouth, tongue, cheek, gums, esophagus, and pancreas (ACS).
Other harmful effects of smokeless tobacco on the human body include:
- Tobacco stains
- Bad breath
- Receding gums
- Gum disease
- Tooth decay
- Abrasion of the teeth
- Bone loss around the teeth
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Increased risk of heart attack and stroke
- Increased risk of stillbirth and premature delivery
- Nicotine poisoning
Finally, despite the claims of smokeless tobacco manufacturers, there is no proof that their products help smokers quit using tobacco, and it is just another form of addiction (ACS).
Tobacco’s impact on the heart and circulatory system
Tobacco smoke causes harm to the functioning of both the heart and the structure of blood vessels, which is turn causes an increase in the risk of atherosclerosis – a disease characterized by the buildup of plaque in the arteries (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute). According to the NHLBI, plaque hardens and narrows the arteries, limiting the flow of blood and thus oxygen to the sufferer’s organs and other body parts.
Coronary heart disease is the result of this plaque buildup in the coronary or heart-associated arteries; in combination with high levels of cholesterol, high blood pressure, and obesity, this plaque can be deadly (NHLBI). Another disease with increased risk factors due to smoking is peripheral arterial disease or PAD. PAD is the buildup of plaque in the blood vessels which carry blood to the head, the organs, and the limbs (NHLBI).
The effects of plaque buildup in the human body include chest pain, heart attack, and heart failure; pain, numbness, infection, and gangrene; ad increased risk for stroke, among others (NHLBI). The NHLBI, ACS, and CDC all note that no amount of smoking is safe for human beings, and that smoking cessation is recommended for all users, worldwide.
Tobacco and oral contraceptives
There is an increased risk of certain severe side effects associated with oral contraceptives and women who smoke while taking them (Mayo Clinic). Smoking has been found to:
“greatly increase the chances of…serious side effects in women who take oral contraceptives; among them are benign liver tumors, liver cancer, blood clots, and stroke” (Mayo Clinic).
The risk of these side effects increases exponentially with age and heavy smoking (considered 15 or more cigarettes per day by the Mayo Clinic). The increase after age 35 is most worrisome and may affect women with a history of breast disease, chronic depression, or diabetes more frequently (Mayo Clinic). Smoking may increase the risk of blood clots, and these may cause severe and sudden abdominal pain; severe or sudden headache or loss of coordination; chest, groin, or leg pain; slurring of speech or shortness of breath, and unexplained weakness, numbness, or pain in the arm or the leg (Mayo Clinic).
Dangers of second-hand smoke
The damage caused by second-hand smoke can be just as severe as the damage caused by direct cigarette smoking, especially for families, children, and teenagers whose loved ones smoke (NHLBI). Over 40 percent of the world’s children are exposed to second-hand smoke (ASH). Second-hand smoke comes in two forms; the smoke from the burning end of a cigar, cigarette, or pipe, and the smoke that is breathed out by the smoking person while in the presence of another person or people (NHLBI).
Second-hand smoke contains most of the same harmful chemicals as direct smoke and increases the risk of future coronary heart disease (CHD) because it lowers the “good” cholesterol (HDL), raises blood pressure, and damages the tissues of the heart (NHLBI). Premature babies with respiratory distress syndrome (RDS) and children with asthma are at particular risk (Smokefree.gov).
With all of this evidence concerning the dangers of smoking and using smokeless tobacco, as well as its effects on human health, there is no excuse to continue smoking for one more day. Kicking the habit is the best way to preserve your health and the health of those you love.
Action on Smoking and Health. “Secondhand Smoke: The Impact on Children.” PDF. Action on Smoking and Health. Action on Smoking and Health, 2015. Web. 17 September 2015.
American Cancer Society. “Smokeless Tobacco.” American Cancer Society. American Cancer Society, Inc. Web. 17 September 2015.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking: Overview.” CDC. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015. Web. 17 September 2015.
Mayo Clinic. “Estrogen and Progestin Oral Contraceptives (Oral Route).” Mayo Clinic. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 2015. Web. 17 September 2015.
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “How Does Smoking Affect the Heart and Blood Vessels?” National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. National Institutes of Health and the Department of Health and Human Services, 2015. Web. 17 September 2015.
Smokefree.gov. “Protect Your Loved Ones From Secondhand Smoke.” Smokefree.gov. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2015. Web. 17 September 2015.
World Health Organization. “Tobacco.” World Health Organization. WHO, 2015. Web. 17 September 2015.