What are the diseases that smoking can cause? There is virtually no part of the human body that is not adversely affected by cigarette smoke. From the cardiovascular system to the lungs, from skin to hair, and from the reproductive organs to susceptibility to infections.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cigarette smoking is the world’s leading cause of avoidable death, but we don’t all respond equally to the damage caused by cigarettes.
Just smoking or other factors at play?
In this second article about cigarettes and related problems, it should be noted that the damage of smoking is dependent on many variables, for example:
- The starting age
- The number of years you’ve smoked
- The number of cigarettes smoked per day
- The mode of aspiration (i.e. more or fewer intense aspirations)
- Your lifestyle (those who do physical activity have the possibility to “dispose” of some inhaled substances more easily and are generally led to smoke less because they see their performance decline)
- Genetics (i.e. DNA repair systems)
The first thought runs to lung cancer, however, cigarette smoking is associated with many different types of cancer, and it’s said (in medical circles) that there’s a risk factor for tumors in bladder, colorectal, esophagus, kidney, ureter, larynx, liver, pharynx, pancreas, stomach, trachea and bronchi.
Returning to lung cancer, tobacco smoke causes two-thirds of the world’s deaths from this disease. In Italy, each year, approximately 34,000 people lose their lives to lung cancer, and it’s estimated that 85% of new cases are due to cigarette smoking.
In addition, cigarette smokers run a higher risk of contracting acute myeloid leukemia.
Cardiovascular diseases caused by cigarettes
Cigarette smoke reduces oxygen transport to tissues and increases both blood pressure and heart rate. The consequence is damage to the heart and arteries, which promotes the development of cardiovascular diseases such as arrhythmias, myocardial infarction, ischemic heart disease, stroke, pulmonary emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (BCPO). The incidence of these diseases in smokers is 70% higher than in non-smokers. In subjects who smoke more than 40 cigarettes per day (it seems incredible but they exist and there aren’t just a few!), the mortality rate is much higher (+200%) than that of non-smokers.
Smoking and COVID-19
The combined effects of cigarette smoke and COVID-19 infection is literally deadly. The effects of smoking on the cardiovascular system, and especially the fact that cigarette smoke causes chronic bronchitis in many smokers, in SARS-CoV-2 patients increases the likelihood of complications and consequently the time of remission from the disease. In addition, it also increases the probability of a fatal outcome in elderly people and/or those of us with chronic diseases; a good reason to quit smoking, although for some, it may be too late due to lung and circulatory system impairment after decades of cigarette smoking.
Several studies demonstrate that cigarette smoking is a risk factor in the development of erectile dysfunction, especially in men with cardiovascular disease. In addition, it’s also been established that sperm motility is significantly decreased, along with consequent fertility problems.
Female Reproductive System
Cigarette smoking in women, in addition to all other harmful effects listed here, causes two other specific effects:
- Smoking during pregnancy causes an increased risk of underweight babies, abortion, growth retardation, mental development and reduced breathing capacity in newborns.
- Smoking has a negative influence on the reproductive system of a woman, altering the normal hormonal production, causing menopause even two years earlier than non-smoking women.
Because of the described damage to the cardiovascular system, cigarette smoking is also a risk factor for mental decline, due to damage to blood vessels including the brain, resulting in a reduced oxygen supply.
Other damage from cigarette smoke
Cigarette smoking is also a risk factor for other diseases or damage less serious than those listed but not negligible, such as premature aging of the skin, yellowing of the teeth, halitosis, a general lowering of the quality of sleep, and damage to taste and smell.
Smoking doesn’t only cause diseases but also a few other interesting effects:
- Environmental Pollution. The toxic substances contained in a cigarette are about 4000; of which at least 70 are carcinogens that are inhaled but are also partly released into the air. The combustion of the cigarette produces substances very similar to those found in a polluted environment (benzopyrene, toxic aldehydes, and heavy metals such as cadmium and lead). The big difference is that their concentration is much higher in the smoke breathed-in by a smoker, and also by those who passively breathe the same air (i.e. second-hand smokers). The main substances that are produced by cigarette smoke and dispersed into the air are carbon monoxide and particulate matter. Both of these are sadly known. Carbon monoxide is the same as that emitted by exhaust gases. It’s dangerous because it’s odorless, colorless and tasteless — but is very toxic. Its effects manifest themselves in the reduction of blood oxygenation and consequently causes damage to the circulatory system, skin, hair and brings on general fatigue. Fine dust is known for urban pollution and is defined according to their particles’ sizes (e.g. PM 10, PM 2.5, PM 1). The latter two are present in cigarette smoke and are also the most dangerous, as they can reach the lung alveoli where they can cause the most damage. Some studies indicate that the retention of particulate matter seems to be higher in children.
- Economic Losses. In fact, it’s not difficult to calculate that, for a heavy smoker, defined as a person who smokes a pack of 20 cigarettes per day, with an average cost of 5 Euros (across Europe), in a year we can say that he or she will literally smoke 1800 Euros!
In conclusion, I cannot personally find a single reason that leads a person to want to smoke or at least quit. However, the reality is quite different, and I’ll try to explain it in our next article.
This post is also available in: Italiano