When speaking about smoking, it’s immediately associated with lung cancer. Unfortunately, smoking is a much wider enemy of health, in general.

With this article, we want to begin a three-part series dedicated to the damage caused by smoking, as requested by a faithful Science4Life reader, whom we’d like to thank for the inspiration (that we all need to reflect on).

Let’s begin with some important data. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smoking causes the death of about 3.3 million people each year globally, and in Italy, about 80,000. The only positive note, as communicated by the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), is that the number of smokers in Italy has decreased from 12.57 million in 2005 to 11.6 million in 2019.

This decrease of about 7.5% is also attributable to the awareness campaign — and to the increase in awareness of the damage caused by smoking. Numbers, however, that are not exactly exciting and that unfortunately are accompanied by an increase in female smokers.

A bit of history about the “vice” of smoking.

When did it originate? Officially, following the discovery of America and the importation of tobacco, but pipes have been found, dating back to the Bronze Age. Anyway, smoking began as a “magic element” — a way to get in touch and communicate with the gods. Going back to more recent times, that is to say to 1500, a Frenchman, Jean Nicot (hence “Nicotine”), demonstrated to the sovereigns of France the curative properties of tobacco, even therapeutic against asthma and respiratory diseases. Oh, the irony.

In the mid-1800s, after the Crimean War, the cigarette spread across Europe, which, because of its practicality, quickly replaced pipe smoking and tobacco chewing; and the habit of smoking spread like “wildfire”, especially during the two World Wars and thanks to the advertising that portrayed beautiful women and famous actors with cigarettes with lavish lifestyles.

The damage of smoking didn’t take long to reveal itself, but by then the habit had become a vice and was already deeply-rooted in the population.

What damage does smoking cause?

Let’s try to bring some clarity to this area, too. Here’s a list of the major damage that smoking can cause:

  • Cardiovascular Disease. Since carbon monoxide, which is a product of smoking, removes oxygen from the blood, it results in a reduction in the transport of oxygen to the tissues. In addition, it increases both blood pressure and heart rate. This damages the heart and arteries, promoting the development of cardiovascular diseases such as arrhythmias, myocardial infarction, ischemic heart disease and stroke.
  • Respiratory Disease and Bronchopulmonary Infection. The toxic substances of smoke, once absorbed by the lungs, can promote the onset of asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), emphysema, obstructive apnea, respiratory failure, pulmonary fibrosis and lung cancer.
  • Effects on the Oral Cavity. Smoking decreases immune defenses against bacterial plaque, promoting yellowing of dentin, gingivitis, halitosis and the onset of oral cancer.
  • Problems During Pregnancy. Smoking negatively affects the female reproductive system, increases the risk of miscarriage and brings on earlier menopause.
  • Damage to Male Sexuality and Fertility. It’s been proven that smoking is a very important risk factor for erectile dysfunction and significantly reduces sperm motility.
  • Aging of the Skin. Smoking causes the release in the body of free radicals that hinder the production of collagen and leads to the loss of elasticity, the appearance of skin blemishes and the formation of wrinkles.

Second-hand smoke and its effects

For this damage to occur, you need not be a cigarette smoker. We can safely say that, unfortunately, we’re almost all passive smokers. In fact, the correlation between second-hand smoke and the onset of cardiovascular disease and cancer in non-smokers is well known.

A quarter of the respiratory diseases in infants and children, are attributable to passive smoking or frequenting polluted environments.

In conclusion, the damage caused by smoking is varied and unfortunately still underestimated today; otherwise, it would not be explainable as to why more than 11 million Italians still smoke!

A possible explanation lies in the fact that the most serious and lethal smoke damage occurs after a few years of smoking. With most smokers, in fact, it’s been proven that an event that will occur (not until) in the future and maybe not so soon, significantly reduces the perception of danger and prolongs the hope that it’ll just never happen.

The “why you smoke” will be investigated in the next article in this series on smoking damage.

This post is also available in: Italiano


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