What Happens to Your Body When You Smoke?


This is an older article that may not reflect Dr. Mercola’s current view on this topic. Use our search engine to find Dr. Mercola’s latest position on any health topic.

According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 15.5 percent (37.8 million) of all adults in the United States are cigarette smokers. This accounts for 17.5 percent of males and 13.5 percent of females in the total U.S. population.

Cigarette smoking also accounts for more than 480,000 deaths per year in the country, which is roughly 1,300 deaths per day.1 It is expected that 8 million people will die in 2030 if the current smoking rate continues.

Background of Cigarette Smoking

Cigarette smoking is said to stimulate pleasing and enjoyable emotions. Smokers claim that it helps boost their mood, alleviate minor depression and small fits of anger, improve concentration and short-term memory, as well as provide a modest sense of well-being. This is because cigarettes contain nicotine, an addictive substance that stimulates dopamine in the brain, which is responsible for the pleasurable sensations.2

However, the more you smoke, the more your nerve cells become immune to the pleasure brought on by smoking. As a result, smokers tend to increase their intake of nicotine to get that desirable feeling from smoking.3

If you think smoking an e-cigarette is a better option, it actually isn't . Researchers found that a brand of e-cig contains more than 10 times the level of carcinogens in a regular cigarette. Formaldehyde and acetaldehyde, both harmful toxins, were also found in the vapor produced by several types of e-cigarettes.4

While smoking makes you feel good for a period of time, it slowly kills your body. In fact, it is the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.5

What Are the Side Effects of Smoking Cigarettes?

Cigarette smoking can harm your body and cause permanent damage to your health. If you're still not convinced about its dangers, take a look at some of the side effects associated with smoking:

Short-Term Effects

Smokers tend to have smelly clothes and hair, bad breath and yellow or brown teeth stains. Smoking may also affect your physical appearance, as it can lead to premature wrinkles, gum and tooth loss, and sudden weight change. Stomach ulcers and weakened immune system are also possible side effects that you might experience.6

People who started smoking at a young age are more likely to continue smoking into adulthood, which could eventually lead to impaired lung function and stunted growth. Teens who smoke are also 22 times more likely to use cocaine.

According to an Australian study, female smokers may experience worse menstrual cramps due to the decreased amount of oxygen that travels to the uterus. Moreover, women who started smoking at the tender age of 13 have a 59 percent risk of having painful menstruation, while those who started smoking at ages 14 or 15 have a 50 percent risk.7

Long-Term Effects

Many people don't begin to feel the severe side effects of smoking until years later, when irreversible health damage has already been done. Some long-term side effects of smoking cigarettes include:

Cardiovascular diseases — Smoking damages the structure of your heart and disrupts the function of your blood vessels.8 It also increases your risk of heart disease by two to four times, as it causes the blood vessels in your heart to thicken, thus causing the pathways to become narrower.

Cigarette smoking also increases your heartbeat, raises your blood pressure and causes your blood to clot. A clot can block the blood flow to your heart, cutting off its oxygen supply and eventually damaging a part of its muscle.

Smokers have a higher risk of atherosclerosis, a disease wherein the plaque liquids build up in the arteries. As time progresses, this will cause your arteries to harden and narrow, which will limit the flow of oxygen-filled blood to other parts of your body.

Smoking may also lead to coronary heart disease (CHD) once the plaque liquids build up in the coronary arteries. This condition may cause chest pain, heart attack, heart failure, arrhythmias or death.

Another side effect of smoking cigarettes is peripheral arterial disease (PAD), which occurs when plaque liquids build up inside the vessels that deliver blood to the head, organs and limbs. Smokers who are diabetic or taking birth control pills have a greater risk of having serious ailments to the heart and blood vessels.9

Increased risk of stroke Smokers are four times more likely to experience a stroke than non-smokers. This fatal condition occurs when a clot blocks the blood flow to your brain or when an artery around your brain erupts.10

Respiratory problems — The lungs are equipped with a layer of internal mucus that serves as a protective shield against foreign materials that you inhale. These contaminants are wiped off by small hairs called cilia. However, with smokers, the cilia do not function properly. As a result, smokers cannot cough, sneeze or swallow to get these toxins out of their body.11

Smoking can also trigger or make an asthma attack worse.12 It may cause chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) as well, which manifests in two forms: emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In emphysema, the air sacs in the lungs eventually lose their elasticity and start to deteriorate. Chronic bronchitis, on the other hand, occurs when there is a swelling in the linings of your lungs, resulting in constrained breathing.13

Pregnancy complications — Pregnant women who smoke have a higher risk of preterm (early) delivery, miscarriage or stillbirth. They're also more prone to weaker bones after menopause.14 Cigarette smoking is linked to sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), ectopic pregnancy and orofacial clefts in newborns as well.

Reproductive health issues — Men who smoke are at risk of erectile dysfunction, poor sperm quality and sperm defects. For women, smoking may cause reduced fertility.15

Additionally, cigarettes contain over 7,000 potentially harmful chemicals, some of which are known to cause cancer, including formaldehyde, benzene, polonium-210 and vinyl chloride.16 Cigarette smoking has been linked to increased risk of cancer of the follow body parts:17

  • Bladder
  • Blood (acute myeloid leukemia)
  • Cervix
  • Colon and rectum (colorectal)
  • Esophagus
  • Kidney and ureter
  • Larynx
  • Liver
  • Oropharynx
  • Pancreas
  • Stomach
  • Trachea, bronchus and lungs

Radioactive Chemical Found in Fertilizers Leads to Lung Cancer

Your body accumulates harmful radioactive chemicals from cigarettes. These dangerous elements come from the calcium phosphate fertilizers used on tobacco fields, which contain polonium-210. When polonium-210 decays, it releases alpha particles that can damage the human cells they come into contact with.

Research suggests that main lung damage comes from the radiation emitted by these fertilizers. The radiation that you get from smoking one and a half cigarette packs is tantamount to 300 chest X-ray films per year. Polonium has also been found to cause cancer in laboratory animals.18

A 2011 report from Nicotine and Tobacco Research19 also revealed there are internal documents stating that the tobacco industry has recognized the danger brought by these radioactive chemicals. According to these papers, acid wash was found to be an effective solution in removing polonium-210 from the tobacco leaves, but the industry avoided using it, as it would lessen the pleasurable effect of nicotine to smokers.

The tobacco industry will certainly not motivate you to stop smoking, even if they know that this may lead to your death. It is now your decision to throw away your smoking habit for good and choose a healthier lifestyle, which can add more years to your life.

What Happens When a Smoker Quits

The process of quitting requires determination and patience, since the withdrawal period will affect you physically and mentally. Although quitting is hard, rest assured that it would benefit your health in many ways. In fact, you may already feel positive effects just after a few minutes of quitting cigarettes.

Quit Smoking

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Tips on How to Quit Smoking

Addicted smokers still have hope in turning over a new leaf. I suggest that you practice these prevention techniques to help you quit smoking:20

Choose a quit day — Pick a day that's not stressful for you so that you can prepare yourself. It can be your birthday, an anniversary or even just the first day of the month.

Don't quit alone — Telling someone about your decision to stop smoking may provide you an enormous support when you feel alone in your battle to quit.

Know your nicotine replacement options —Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) may help you quit smoking, as it aids in overcoming withdrawal symptoms. It's considered safe for all smokers except for pregnant women and people with heart disease.21 The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved five forms of NRT: patch, gum, nasal spray, inhalers and lozenges. However, it's still best to ask a medical professional about which form of NRT is most suitable for you.22

Get smart about your smoking — Keeping a journal can help you track the situations that helped you up or pushed you down in your attempt to quit smoking, allowing you to determine how you can deal with them without reaching for a cigarette.

Identify your triggers — Make a list of all the things that you have done in the past that involves smoking. Before your quit day, plan out how you will deal with these triggers.

Change what, where, when and how you smoke — Altering your smoking habits, such as the time and places where you used to smoke, may help you during your attempt to quit.

Spring clean — Wash and throw away everything that reminds you of smoking.

Get support — It's a great idea to seek support from communities of former smokers or from a clinic that specializes in helping those who want quit.

Quit day and beyond — You have to adjust your behavior to identify what triggers you to smoke.

If you're going to do it, do it — Commitment is key to be successful in your attempt to quit. It will certainly be hard but it is worth it.

Quitting smoking may be hard, but I advise you to do it as early as now. I really believe that having a healthy, smoke-free lifestyle will not only benefit you but your family as well.


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