The health risks for smoking are numerous, and most are life-threatening. Smoking kills more people each year than any other preventable factor. Still, one in every four Americans smokes. Unfortunately, their second-hand smoke kills thousands of additional people each year, people who never smoked a cigarette. Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals. Forty three of these chemicals are known to cause cancer and over 400 of them are known toxins.
Aside from raising a person’s risk of lung cancer by over 90%, other cancers are more common in smokers than in non-smokers. Cancers of the bladder, esophagus, kidneys, pancreas and cervix occur much more frequently in smokers. Mouth cancer is also more common in smokers, usually beginning under the tongue or around the lips. The amount a person smokes and how long they smoke play a part in increasing the risk for these cancers.
Over 80 percent of people who develop COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are smokers. COPD is a combination of diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis. It usually onsets between the ages of 35 and 45 in smokers, rather than in old age. The lung function deteriorates, making it difficult to breathe. Death from COPD is death by asphyxiation.
Smoking also causes high blood pressure. While high blood pressure (hypertension) is not a disease in itself, it causes many serious problems and diseases. Hypertension leads to damage in the arteries, heart disease, brain damage, kidney damage, eye damage, sexual dysfunction, bone loss, insomnia, stroke, heart attack and complications during pregnancy. The health risks for smoking exist in every cell of the body.
Smoking also leads to heart disease. This is the number one cause of death among smokers, even surpassing lung cancer. The arteries harden in smokers much as they do in an obese person. If you smoke and are overweight, your risk of heart disease is astronomical, based on your BMI (body mass index), the amount you smoke and how many years you have smoked. The only way to regain your health is by quitting smoking.
Quitting smoking is not easy. It takes a high level of commitment. People are much more likely to quit and stay away from cigarettes for good when they have a support system in place. A good place to start is at your doctor’s office. Get a physical exam and find out what your accurate weight and vital signs are. This will give you a good comparison to check a few months after you quit, a year after you quit and again five years after you quit.
After getting a good physical exam, make a plan for quitting and set a date. Get your family and friends behind you so that you have some cheerleaders. Being accountable to other people helps you stay strong when you feel very weak. There are many options for people who want to quit, including electronic cigarettes, nicotine patches and gum, hypnosis and counseling. Different options work better for different people. If your cravings are more mental than physical, consider this when developing your quit smoking plan.
The health risks for smoking are serious, but they are preventable. The incredibly sad part is that thousands of people die each year of heart disease, lung cancer, COPD and other health problems that are completely preventable. Life is a complicated and dangerous game. Eliminating the negatives leaves more room in your life for positive things. Consider how wonderful your relationships can be when you are not stepping away from the action every 20 minutes for a cigarette. Time, money and life: this is what is saved by quitting smoking for good.