Nicotine is the addictive drug in tobacco smoke that causes people who smoke to continue to smoke. Along with nicotine, people who smoke inhale about 7,000 other chemicals in cigarette smoke. Many of these chemicals come from burning tobacco leaf. Some of these compounds are chemically active and trigger profound and damaging changes in the body. Tobacco smoke contains over 70 known cancer-causing chemicals. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, causing many diseases and reducing health in general.
Effects of smoking on the respiratory system
The effects of tobacco smoke on the respiratory system include:
- Irritation of the trachea (windpipe) and larynx (voice box)
- Reduced lung function and breathlessness due to swelling and narrowing of the lung airways and excess mucus in the lung passages
- Impairment of the lungs’ clearance system, leading to the build-up of poisonous substances, which results in lung irritation and damage
- Increased risk of lung infection and symptoms such as coughing and wheezing
Permanent damage to the air sacs of the lungs
Some of the conditions and diseases that can be caused by smoking
Did you know?
Tobacco use is the one risk factor shared by 4 of the main categories of non-communicable disease. These include cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lung disease and diabetes
Smoking causes most lung cancers and can cause cancer almost anywhere on the body. This includes the lips, tongue, mouth, nose, esophagus, throat, voice box, stomach, liver, kidney, pancreas, bladder, blood, cervix, vulva, penis and anus
- Breathing problems and chronic respiratory conditions
Smoking is the main cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a serious, progressive and disabling condition that limits airflow in the lungs. Active smoking also worsens asthma in active smokers and is associated with an increased risk for asthma in adolescents and adults.
- Heart disease, stroke and blood circulation problems
Smoking is major cause of cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease and stroke. Smoking increases the risk of blood clots, which block blood flow to the heart, brain or legs. Some smokers end up having their limbs amputated due to blood circulation problems caused by smoking.
Smoking weakens your immune system so you’re more likely to get bacterial and viral infections.
- Dental problems
Smoking increase the risk of gum diseases, tooth loss and tooth sensitivity. Once a person has gum damage, smoking also makes it harder for their gums to heal.
- Hearing loss
Smoking reduces blood flow to the inner ear. Smokers may also lose their hearing earlier than a non-smoker.
- Vision loss
Smoking damages the eye and can lead to macular degeneration — the main cause of blindness in Australia.
- Fertility problems
Smoking can make it more difficult to fall pregnant and affect sperm quality. Find out more about smoking and tobacco and pregnancy.
- Osteoporosis and menopause
Smoking is a risk factor for osteoporosis and in women, may result in early menopause compared to a non-smoker.
How can I quit smoking?
There are many different ways to quit smoking. To succeed, you have to find a smoking cessation plan that works for your personality. You need to be ready emotionally and mentally. You should want to quit smoking for yourself and not just for family or friends exposed to your secondhand smoke.
When you decide to quit, these pointers can help:
- Get rid of all cigarettes and anything related to smoking, like lighters and ashtrays.
- Live with another smoker? Ask them not to smoke near you or convince them to quit with you.
- When the cravings hit, don’t focus on them. Cravings are temporary, so focus on why you want to quit instead.
- Keep yourself busy and find things to do with your hands — doodling or playing with a pencil or straw. Change any activities connected to smoking, too. Take a walk or read a book instead of taking a cigarette break.
- When you get the urge to smoke, take a deep breath. Hold it for ten seconds and release it slowly. Repeat this several times until the urge to smoke is gone. You can also try meditation to reduce baseline stress levels.
- Avoid places, people and situations you associate with smoking. Hang out with nonsmokers or go places that don’t allow smoking (like movies, museums, shops or libraries).
- Don’t substitute food or sugar-based products for cigarettes. These can cause weight gain. Instead, choose low-calorie, healthy foods. Try carrot or celery sticks, sugar-free hard candies or gum.
- Drink plenty of fluids, but limit alcoholic and caffeinated beverages. They can trigger urges to smoke.
- Remind yourself that you are a nonsmoker, and you don’t smoke. Don’t forget to exercise, because it has health benefits and help you relax