Health Risks and Diseases of Smoking

An elderly man holds a cigarette

Patricia Marroquin / Moment Open / Getty Images

Do you have any idea which smoking-related disease is the number one cause of death among smokers? If you're thinking it's lung cancer or COPD/emphysema, you're wrong. While both of these smoking-related diseases do claim a lot of lives, it is heart disease that that holds the top slot in the list of diseases that kill smokers.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States today and the leading cause of death among smokers. And, on a global level, researchers report that there were 1,690,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease among smokers in the year 2000. In contrast, there were approximately 850,000 lung cancer deaths during the same year, and 118,000 COPD deaths from smoking in 2001, worldwide.

Smoking is hard on the heart, but the fact is, tobacco use plays a role in a multitude of diseases that ultimately lead to disability and/or death. Cigarette smoke contains over 7,000 chemical compounds; 250 of which are known to be poisonous, and upwards of 70 have been identified as carcinogens. Viewed in that light, it's no wonder that the effects of smoking are so widespread and destructive.

Let's take a look at how cigarette smoke affects our bodies, from head to toe. You may be surprised at some of the ways smoking has a negative impact on our health.
Brain and Mental Effects:

Eyes:

  • Eyes that sting, water, and blink more
  • Macular degeneration
  • Cataracts

Nose:

  • Less sense of smell

Thyroid

  • Graves Disease
  • Thyroid Disease

Skin:

  • Wrinkles
  • Premature aging

Hair:

  • Smell and staining

Teeth:

  • Discoloration and stains
  • Plaque
  • Loose teeth
  • Gum disease (gingivitis)

Mouth and Throat:

Hands:

  • Poor circulation(cold fingers)
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Tar-stained fingers

Respiration and Lungs:

  • Lung cancer
  • COPD (includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema)
  • Cough and sputum
  • Shortness of breath
  • Colds and flu
  • Pneumonia
  • Asthma
  • Complicates tuberculosis

Heart:

Liver:

  • Cancer

Abdomen:

  • Stomach and duodenal ulcers
  • Cancer of stomach, pancreas, and colon
  • Aortic aneurysm

Kidneys and bladder:

  • Kidney cancer
  • Bladder cancer

Bones:

  • Osteoporosis
  • Spine and hip fractures

Spine:

Male reproduction:

  • Sperm: deformity, loss of motility, reduced number
  • Infertility
  • Impotence

Female reproduction:

  • Period pains
  • Earlier menopause
  • Cancer of cervix
  • Infertility and delay in conception

Blood:

  • Leukemia

Legs and Feet:

  • Gangrene
  • Peripheral vascular disease
  • Beurger Disease

Immune System:

  • Weakened immune system

The effects of smoking hold additional risks for women. Those who smoke throughout their pregnancies increase the risk of:

  • Spontaneous abortion/miscarriage
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Abruptio placentae
  • Placenta previa
  • Premature rupture of the membranes
  • Premature birth

Risks to the fetus include:

  • Smaller infant(for gestational age)
  • Stillborn infant
  • Birth defects, e.g. congenital limb reduction
  • Increased nicotine receptors in baby's brain
  • Increased likelihood of child smoking as a teenager
  • Possible predisposition to adult anxiety disorders

As long as this list of diseases known to be associated with smoking is, it is incomplete. We don't yet fully understand all of the dangers that cigarette smoke presents, but research continues, bringing us new discoveries seemingly by the day.

One thing is certain: Cigarettes snuff out life at an alarming rate. Statistics tell us that upwards of half of the long-term smokers will die a smoking-related death. And globally, that presently translates to nearly 5 million deaths a year. Put another way, someone loses their life to smoking every 8 seconds somewhere in the world.

If you currently smoke, use this the "Quit Smoking Toolbox" to help you see your smoking habit for what it is—a deadly addiction that you can live without. 

As humans, we are incredibly resilient. While not all smoking damage is reversible, so much can be healed, even after years of smoking.

Don't ever think it's too late for you to quit smoking, and please...don't waste any more of your life on cigarettes. Smoking offers you absolutely nothing of value.

Take back your life. You deserve the freedom and long-lasting benefits that smoking cessation brings.

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