Smoking: Composition, Harm and Consequences

Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death today. Tobacco kills over 8 million people every year. More than 7 million of these deaths are the result of the direct use of tobacco. While about 1.2 million are due to passive smoking, that is, involuntarily assumed by the environment following the consumption of cigarettes by third parties. About 80% of the 1.1 billion smokers in the world live in low- and middle-income countries Even in Italy. The numbers are important. Cigarettes cause 80,000 deaths a year. About 50% of smokers die prematurely.

Smokers

There are 11.6 million people who regularly smoke cigarettes: one million less than the 12.6 million in 2005. The year in which the law on the prohibition of smoking came into force. This reduction involves people without economic difficulties more and less the economically disadvantaged people. Among whom the share of smokers is higher. The latest data available, relating to 2015-2018. This shows that in our country the majority of adults do not smoke (57%) or have stopped smoking (17%). On average, a smoker lights about 12 cigarettes every day. But 25% consume more than one pack. The largest share of smokers resides in the Center-South, in particular Umbria, Abruzzo, Lazio, and Sicily. In Emilia-Romagna too, the prevalence of smoking remains high.

Why smoking is bad

Smoking is the cause of cardiovascular disease, cancer, lack of appetite, psoriasis, and more. Tobacco smoking, according to the ISS, is responsible for a third of cancer deaths and about 15% of all deaths from any cause. Resulting in more deaths from alcohol, AIDS, drugs, traffic accidents, homicides, and suicides. put together.

Many scientific studies have in fact shown that those who smoke tobacco are more likely than others to develop over 50 serious diseases. Not just cancers.: Smoking increases the risk of dying from emphysema 10 times. Doubles that of having a stroke. Increases two to four times that of having a heart attack. Impairs blood circulation to the brain and limbs. Can promote the onset of erectile dysfunction in men.

Overall, according to the WHO, tobacco kills half of its consumers. It is good to remember that smoking is not the only factor that puts our health at risk: advanced age, pollution, genetic factors, and familiarity can also cause the onset of more or less serious diseases.

Smoking, therefore, represents the main risk factor for everyone. Not only for smokers but also for those who are exposed to secondhand smoke.

Composition of cigarette smoke

Every time a cigarette is lit. More than 4,000 chemicals are introduced, at least eighty of which. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), are also carcinogenic.
With each puff you mainly inhale:

  • Carbon monoxide, which is the exhaust gas from cars and stoves. Which prevents oxygen from binding to hemoglobin, thus reducing the supply of oxygen to the tissues and causing cardiovascular damage.
  • Nicotine, responsible for the effects of smoking on the brain. Therefore also for physical dependence;
  • Tar, which contains many carcinogenic substances such as benzopyrene and other aromatic hydrocarbons.
  • Acetone, such as used to remove nail polish.
  • The constituents of smoke with greater carcinogenic potential are 1,3-butadiene (because it is present in large quantities), arsenic (tends to accumulate in the body and interferes with the ability to repair DNA damage), benzene ( responsible for 10-50% of leukemia caused by smoking), cadmium (it is in an amount greater than the body’s ability to reduce its toxicity).

The chemical composition of cigarette smoke is also made up of radioactive substances. Among these of particular importance is polonium 210.
An analysis of the cigarettes sold in Italy showed that in a year. On average, those who smoke about one pack a day run the same biological risk as if they were to undergo 25 chest x-rays. Like radiation. Many chemicals in cigarette tar also damage the DNA of cells. Triggering is a process that can encourage the uncontrolled growth of mutated cells (cancer).

Nicotine is addictive, but that’s not all

Nicotine is the main active component present in tobacco. An average cigarette contains 1-1.5 milligrams of which 90% is absorbed through smoking.
Diluted in smoke, in just 7 seconds it reaches the brain where it increases the levels of dopamine. a substance that improves mood and increases the sensation of pleasure: this triggers a vicious circle that creates the addiction to tobacco. also known as smoking.

Although nicotine is a stimulant. In smokers, it is perceived as relaxing and anti-stress. This is due to the sum of the effects on the nervous system. After taking, there is a surge of adrenaline which increases blood pressure and heart rate. As well as awakening reflexes and resistance to stress. Nicotine also narrows and hardens the arteries: the heart pumps more but receives less blood. In this way. The number of heart attacks doubles.
The problem at the level of the blood vessels involves. In the brain, a worsening of memory and, in general, premature aging, lower physical performance, fatigue. This substance increases the consumption of fats, hence the smoker’s thinness. Causes an increase in blood sugar which, in turn, reduces the sense of hunger.

The nicotine present in 4 cigarettes (50 mg) would be enough to kill a man in minutes if injected directly into the blood. The duration of the effects of smoking a cigarette depends mainly on those of nicotine and usually wear off within a few hours. In the urine, however, it leaves traces for up to 3 days and, in addicts to smoking, even for 15-20 days.

The carcinogenic substances contained in the smoke can finally indirectly favor the development of tumors. Hindering the mechanisms of repair, control of cell growth, or the removal of other toxins (for example by destroying the cilia of the cells that line the respiratory tract. As they do ammonia and hydrogen cyanide).

Because even a cigarette hurts

There is no minimum number of cigarettes to smoke safely: just think that even passive smoking causes damage. In studies that investigate the smoking link with various diseases. It is used as a unit of the “pack-years.” In other words. Smoking half a pack a day for two years equals fumarate a whole for a year.
According to available data, smoking 20 cigarettes a day reduces the average life span of a young person who starts smoking at age 25 by about 4.6 years.

In practice, one day of life is lost for every week of smoking. As reported by the Ministry of Health. It is estimated that 25% of adult male smokers will die from tobacco-related diseases. According to the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention. There are at least 27 smoking-related diseases. The organs at particular risk of smoking damage are the respiratory and cardiovascular systems. The severity of the damage depends on the exposure (even passive) to tobacco smoke and is correlated to the age at which one starts smoking, the number of cigarettes per day. The years of addiction, and inhalation modality (the deeper and more are the damages).
It has been calculated that on average for every 15 cigarettes smoked at least one mutation occurs. Basically, every time you open a new package it’s like playing Russian Roulette.

The damage of light cigarettes, cigars and pipes

Strong or light, cigarettes always carry a similar concentration of toxic substances in the blood. Many studies have shown that light cigarettes do not have a lower risk of getting sick.
For this reason, the European Union in 2003. And the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010. Imposed the elimination of the definitions of “light” from the packaging. (mild, light, or low tar) that could mislead the consumer. In their place “gold” or “silver” packages have appeared. But some studies have shown that the use of these formulas or lighter colors in the packages is interpreted as less harmful formulations. This is why cigarettes are sold in similar packs in many countries.

In Italy, since 2016, on cigarette packets, there are combined warnings (text and images) of the effects of smoking on health. Cigar and pipe are not safer alternatives either. Although inhaling the smokeless deeply, they slightly reduce the risk of lung cancer. Conversely, the likelihood of developing the disease is higher than in non-smokers.
In addition. Cigar and pipe increase the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and other organs such as the pancreas

Passive smoking: why it is dangerous

It is now unequivocal evidence that passive smoking (secondhand smoke ) is responsible for at least a proportion of lung cancers in non-smokers, as well as heart disease, asthma, and other less serious disorders.

According to some studies, having breathed the smoke of others increases the risk of lung cancer and heart disease in a non-smoker by about 25%. Some data, yet to be confirmed. Show that exposure to third-party smoke could favor the development of breast tumors and a more unfavorable course of the disease in women.

The World Health Organization (WHO) calculates that passive smoking is to be attributed, overall, 600,000 deaths a year worldwide, 165,000 of which are children living at home with a smoker. The damages of passive smoking are in fact particularly serious in children. Whose organism is in the development phase? Infants exposed to smoke are more prone to cot death. Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

The children who live with smokers are more vulnerable to lung infections and are at greater risk of asthma. Even before birth, the fetus of a smoking mother is likely to have health problems.

There is also a “third hand” smoke: it is what remains impregnated to the rooms. In particular to the furnishings, curtains, carpets, bedspreads or armchairs and sofas. To date, there is no evidence as convincing about the carcinogenic effect of these toxins as that regarding “secondhand” smoke, that is, commonly called passive smoking. But there are studies in progress.

Smoking and adolescence

The ESPAD-Italy surveys recorded that between 1999 and 2018 the consumption of nicotine generally begins in adolescence. To try Smoking at least once in their lives was. In 2018, 56.9% of students. About one and a half million. With a steady decline since 2000, when they accounted for 67.5%. The age of the first cigarette, in Italy, and in line with what also happens in other European countries, is over 15 years. But 25% try the first cigarette at 14. Interestingly. After the age of 16 females show higher odds of peers. With a range that returns to widen in 2018 (55.9% vs 58.0%) after the reduction recorded in 2011.

the teens are considered to be at risk since lighting the first cigarette at a young age increases the chances of developing a true addiction and because boys are the ones who potentially have more years to spend smoking. And therefore a higher probability of getting sick and making their children sick.

The consequences that can be found “in the short term” are a reduction in physical performance, an increase in heart rate, anxiety, behavioral disorders as well as a greater predisposition towards use (which sometimes results in abuse ) alcohol and drugs.
Furthermore. Girls are often not informed of the risk associated with the combination of smoking and contraceptive pills. Which can also lead to acute cardio-cerebrovascular events at a young age. In the long term, however, cigarette addiction can carry risks for cardiovascular disease, cancer, and respiratory diseases.

From an analysis published in the International Journal of Epidemiology carried out in Italy. It emerged that the risk of having non-allergic asthma was almost double for those children whose fathers had started smoking before the age of 15. A sign that. According to the researchers’ hypothesis. The damage caused by smoking can also affect germ cells(sperm and egg cells, ed) and thus be transmitted to

Aesthetic damage from smoking

Cigarettes are made up of tar which can also hurt the teeth: in fact. The tar causes the yellowing of the teeth and the sulfides produce bad breath. Furthermore. Since cigarettes are agents capable of triggering inflammation. They make the risk of caries and tooth loss more frequent.

In addition to the teeth, fingers and nails are also subject to yellowing, decay of the cheeks. And the appearance of wrinkles all over the face. As if you were making faces throughout the day. Especially this applies to all those small wrinkles that form around the mouth.

Smoke and hunger

Although few studies exist to support this theory. It has nevertheless been proven that there is a relationship between smoking and appetite: in fact, in smokers, the sense of satiety is perceived earlier than in non-smokers. And therefore they take on a lower caloric intake. about 152 calories.

This precise indication was provided by Dr. Konstantina Zachari of the Harokopio University of Athens who discovered the data thanks to an experiment on a group of patients going to study their appetite during a smoking day and a non-smoking day. Responsible for this phenomenon is the lack of stimulation of ghrelin. The hunger hormone, inhibited by nicotine.
When you stop smoking, in fact, there is a slight increase in appetite. which leads the subject to gain weight up to 10 kilos after 5 years from when he has stopped smoking.

The risk of psoriasis and cigarettes

Even in the case of a particular type of dermatitis, psoriasis, it is much more frequent among smokers. And those who were exposed to secondhand smoke in childhood will be more prone to develop it in adulthood.
Furthermore, psoriasis in smokers is also associated with cardiovascular risk.

Smoke acts not only as a strong trigger but sometimes also with an aggravating action: smoking reduces the number of antioxidants in the blood, increases the number of free radicals, damages the blood vessel wall. Is the viscosity of the blood, and alters the production of VEGF, a substance linked to the formation of capillaries. Smoking also increases inflammation since nicotine increases the synthesis of inflammatory substances.

Read AlsoHow to keep the human heart healthy and strong?

Smoking and pregnancy

Smoking is a risk factor not only for infertility but also for the well-being of the mother and the unborn child. Even in the following years. Nicotine can cause serious infertility problems as it is capable of altering tubal motility. Thus hindering the transit of the oocytes and the encounter with the spermatozoa. Nicotine is also a factor in infertility
in men.
Smoking can delay pregnancy by up to 12 months and smoking is one of the major causes of infertility.
Furthermore, all substances contained in tobacco smoke can cross the placenta and enter fetal circulation. Of these, nicotine is the compound associated with a multitude of adverse events on organ development. Including the brain. Other equally well-known toxic chemicals found in tobacco smoke include carbon monoxide which is capable of interfering with the unborn baby’s oxygen demand. As a study recently published on BMJ Open reads. Quitting smoking before pregnancy is important. In the face of a reduction in the risk of underweight birth resulting from abstaining from smoking during the first trimester of pregnancy. There is no improvement in brain size and length of the newborn in body weight.
This underlines the importance of quitting smoking even before the onset of pregnancy since smoking even in the first months of gestation could have devastating effects on the health of the offspring in the long term.

Expecting a baby is an excellent opportunity to quit smoking. Mothers-to-be can find a strong motivation to give up cigarettes. Knowing that continuing means, among other things, reducing the supply of oxygen to the fetus and thus causing harm.
You can help yourself with nicotine replacement treatments(under medical supervision), since patches, inhalers, candy, and chewing gum do not provide more nicotine than cigarettes would. If, on the other hand, you continue to smoke, especially after the third month, the chances are that the pregnancy will end, that the unborn child is not very vital, has a low birth weight, or develops other health problems.

The consequences of smoking in pregnancy are prolonged over time: throughout the first year of life. The baby runs a greater risk of cot death and in the following years, he will be more exposed to respiratory diseases like asthma. All these effects can also be produced by exposure to secondhand smoke: it is therefore very important to never smoke in the presence of a pregnant woman.
Cigarettes while breastfeeding
A 2008 study, for example, was able to demonstrate that mothers’ smoking can negatively affect the cardiovascular control of infants and that the risk of sudden infant death is 7 times greater in the presence of daily consumption of more than 10 cigarettes.
The smokers who are breastfeeding have approximately a quarter less milk compared to non-smokers. Limiting the number of cigarettes per day as much as possible is a must. As is leaving as much time as possible between one cigarette and the next feed (at least 3 hours).

Smoking and cardiovascular diseases


The nicotine contained in cigarettes causes the heart to beat faster. Stimulating the so-called tachycardia. And blood pressure increases. For this reason, cigarettes are known as a risk factor for cardiovascular diseases: atherosclerosis, emphysema, cardiac arrhythmias, heart attack, and stroke.

Especially stroke: a sudden, traumatic and unexpected event. Smoking can double the risk of ischemic stroke and quadruple a hemorrhagic stroke. It can be mitigated by quitting smoking: in a few years it returns to very low values; unfortunately the same cannot be said for the risk of cancer.

Smoking and the musculoskeletal system

Smoking is often linked to diseases and pathologies typical of the cardiovascular, respiratory, and oncological systems.
However, the risks produced by smoking on the musculoskeletal system are often underestimated. As noted by the SIOT (Italian Society of Orthopedics and Traumatology). The most evident damages are linked to premature aging and alterations of the reparative processes in case of damage to bones or muscles. Caused by nicotine and carbon monoxide which reduce blood oxygenation.

In smokers, the risk of complications is 40-50% higher than in non-smokers, in addition to requiring longer periods of postoperative hospitalization, resorting to prolonged and expensive antibiotic therapies, and having worse surgical results, sometimes requiring a “re-admission”, ie a further hospitalization shortly after the operation

Smoking and bone damage

L ‘ osteoporosis, which leads as a direct consequence of the strong increase of the risk of bone fractures.

  • It is possible to contract infections more easily than non-smokers during orthopedic surgery. Especially as a consequence of prosthetic surgery ;
  • It often happens that the reduction of osteointegration processes of the prostheses occurs. That is, the integration, and therefore the attachment, between the prosthesis and the bone, leading in this way to the premature failure of the implantation of the prosthesis. Decreases. since the detachment of the prosthesis from the bone occurs.
  • Smokers have slowed-down processes in the repair of fractures and the healing of tendon. Ligament, and muscle damage.
  • Surgical wounds after orthopedic interventions also take much longer to heal.

Smoking and cancer of the lungs and other organs

the tumor. The carcinogenic substances contained in the smoke then favor the development of lung tumors. Which is 9 out of 10 cases can be traced back to this bad habit. The symptoms that should alarm, especially the heaviest smokers. Are the cough that does not go away or that from dry becomes productive, bronchopneumonia that does not heal completely, hoarseness, chest pain, weight loss, fever, shortness of breath, and blood streaks in the phlegm?

It is also true that lung cancer is present in non-smokers. With a percentage of around 15-20%. And the cause is attributable to viral, bacterial, or fungal infections; but these same factors can also be present in smokers, aggravating their conditions. Furthermore, familiarity is a cause that has a significant impact, as well as fumes and environmental pollutants which are often contributory causes, if not the main ones, of neoplasms of the respiratory system. Especially to the lungs. Just as the habit of smoking is more common among men, lung cancer is also more common among men, although in recent years there has been an increase in the disease among women and a slight decrease among men…

According to the US study by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), the risk of premature death is 64% higher than for those who have never smoked and rises to 84% if you smoke up to 10 cigarettes a day. A figure took into consideration about the risk of lung cancer is 9 times higher than non-smokers. For those who smoke up to 10 cigarettes. The risk increases by 12 times.

The same substances also increase the likelihood of developing cancers of the oral cavity and throat, pancreas, colon, bladder, kidney, esophagus, breast, especially among younger women, and some leukemia.
Finally, we must not overlook the economic impact of smoking: in 2010 in Italy about 7.5 billion euros were spent in Italy (only on health costs, not to mention social and human costs).

How to quit smoking

There is no single system to quit that is good for everyone. Also because there are different motivations and habits to smoke. Different psychological and physical characteristics, lifestyles and professions, and even the genetic variants on which a greater or lesser predisposition to smoking may depend. physical and psychological dependence.

For those who want to quit smoking by focusing on their willpower, it is important that they set specific goals. Such as a suitable day to put out the last cigarette and schedule a physical activity to be carried out continuously to ensure a good level of endorphins of the Welfare.

Smoking and cancer of the lungs and other organs

There is no single system to quit that is good for everyone. Also because there are different motivations and habits to smoke. Different psychological and physical characteristics, lifestyles and professions, and even the genetic variants on which a greater or lesser predisposition to smoking may depend. physical and psychological dependence.

For those who want to quit smoking by focusing on their willpower. It is important that they set specific goals. Such as a suitable day to put out the last cigarette and schedule a physical activity to be carried out continuously to ensure a good level of endorphins of the Welfare. Smoking represents. In 80% of cases, the cause of cancer, especially of the lung. This happens because the smoke prevents the lungs from oxygenating and therefore damages the bronchial cells: these begin to reproduce in an uncontrolled way thus generating the tumor. The carcinogenic substances contained in the smoke then favor the development of lung tumors. Which is 9 out of 10 cases can be traced back to this bad habit. The symptoms that should alarm, especially the heaviest smokers, are the cough that does not go away or that from dry becomes productive. Bronchopneumonia that does not heal completely, hoarseness, chest pain, weight loss, fever, shortness of breath, and blood streaks in the phlegm.

It is also true that lung cancer is present in non-smokers, with a percentage of around 15-20% and the cause is attributable to viral, bacterial, or fungal infections. But these same factors can also be present in smokers. Aggravating their conditions. Furthermore, familiarity is a cause that has a significant impact. As well as fumes and environmental pollutants which are often contributory causes. If not the main ones. Of neoplasms of the respiratory system. Especially to the lungs. Just as the habit of smoking is more common among men. Lung cancer is also more common among men. Although in recent years there has been an increase in the disease among women and a slight decrease among men.

According to the US study by the National Cancer Institute. The risk of premature death is 64% higher than for those who have never smoked and rises to 84% if you smoke up to 10 cigarettes a day. A figure took into consideration about the risk of lung cancer is 9 times higher than non-smokers; for those who smoke up to 10 cigarettes. The risk increases by 12 times.

The same substances also increase the likelihood of developing cancers of the oral cavity and throat, pancreas, colon, bladder, kidney, esophagus, breast, especially among younger women, and some leukemia.
Finally, we must not overlook the economic impact of smoking: in 2010 in Italy about 7.5 billion euros were spent in Italy (only on health costs, not to mention social and human costs).

How to quit smoking

How to quit smoking there is no single system to quit that is good for everyone. Also because there are different motivations and habits to smoke. Different psychological and physical characteristics. Lifestyles and professions. And even the genetic variants on which a greater or lesser predisposition to smoking may depend. physical and psychological dependence.

For those who want to quit smoking by focusing on their willpower. It is important that they set specific goals. Such as a suitable day to put out the last cigarette and schedule a physical activity to be carried out continuously to ensure a good level of endorphins of the Welfare.

The 10 rules for quitting smoking

  • Set a date to quit smoking and stick to it.
  • After quitting, absolutely avoid taking a cigarette again, even just to take a puff: the risk of a relapse is too high.
  • Get rid of all cigarettes, lighters, and ashtrays.
  • Write down the list of the drawbacks of smoking and the benefits of quitting.
  • Use nicotine substitutes, Zyban or Champix.
  • These products relieve withdrawal symptoms (irritability, nervousness, distress, depression, disturbed concentration, sleep disturbances, increased appetite, weight gain, irresistible urge to smoke) and double your chances of success.
  • Ask others not to smoke in your presence. For the first few weeks, avoid places where you smoke. However, if you cannot or do not want to avoid these places. Then kindly but firmly refuse any invitation to smoke. Be proud not to smoke anymore!
  • Tell people around you that you have stopped smoking. Ask for support.
  • Change your daily routine to avoid places and situations where you used to smoke: for example, get up from the table as soon as you finish your meal.
  • Engage in diversion activities to meet the urgent need to smoke (for example, take a walk, drink water, chew gum, wash your hands ). The urge to smoke only lasts 3 to 5 minutes. Just wait for it to pass.
  • Tell yourself that getting used to living without a cigarette can take time and often many attempts.

Medicines for quitting smoking

In case you are unable to quit with cigarettes. You can contact your family doctor or one of the accredited anti-smoking centers. Where they use methods for quitting smoking certified by the international literature. Most former smokers have not been able to free themselves from the cigarette until after repeated efforts. But luckily with each new attempt the chances of success increase. Some medications can help in quitting Smoking.

When you stop smoking, withdrawal symptoms that occur caused by physical dependence on nicotine (agitation, fatigue, irritability, insomnia, or difficulty concentrating) can be remedied by using substitute products (patches, inhalers, candies, or chewing gum). Which release a quantity of substance sufficient to eliminate the disorders, gradually reducing the need.

Under medical supervision, these means can also be used during pregnancy because their possible negative effects are still lower than those of smoking. Which in addition to nicotine contains many other toxic substances for the fetus.

What Happens When You Quit Smoking?

  • Quitting smoking is the first step towards prevention. Resolution of most of the diseases caused by smoking. Immediately after stopping this habit, our body progressively recovers:
  • After 8 hours from the absence of nicotine. Blood oxygenation returns to normal values.
  • After 24 hours, halitosis is reduced, the accumulation of mucus and phlegm in the lungs decreases.
  • After a week the sense of taste and smell improve;
  • After a few weeks the skin returns to a healthy color;
  • The cough disappears within 6 months ;
  • After one year, the risk of heart disease is reduced by half;
  • After 10 years, the risk of lung cancer drops by 50%;
  • After 15 years, the risk of heart disease is equal to that of a person who has never smoked;
  • Even after 20 years, the risk of lung cancer remains higher than in those who have never smoked.

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