Understanding the Charms and Challenges of the Smoking Lifestyle

3 minutes, 35 seconds Read

Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body. It increases the risk for cancer, heart disease, stroke and respiratory problems like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and can cause erectile dysfunction in men. It can also cause fertility issues and increase the risk of a small-for-gestational-age baby for women who smoke during pregnancy.

Risk of Cancer

Smoking increases your risk of developing a number of different types of cancer. It can also cause other health conditions like breathing problems and a decrease in lung function.

Even light, occasional and social smoking increases your chances of getting cancer. It is especially bad for your throat, mouth and lungs. It can affect your fingers and toenails, as well as the lining of your stomach.

In this study, we found that cigarette smoking was positively associated with 11 cancers (bronchus and lungs; larynx; liver; nasal cavity, middle ear and sinuses; bladder; lip, oral cavity, pharynx and esophagus; pancreas; kidney; lymphomas) and negatively associated with three cancers (skin; prostate; cervix). This is consistent with previous findings. Smokers were more likely to die from cancer than non-smokers.

Risk of Heart Disease

Smoking harms the heart and blood vessels, causing coronary artery disease (CAD). Over time, the nicotine and toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke cause the walls of the large arteries that carry oxygen to the heart to become narrow and hardened. This restricts blood flow to the heart and increases the risk of blood clots.

The damage to the heart and blood vessels caused by smoking also raises the risk of stroke. The arteries that carry blood to the brain can become clogged, cutting off the oxygen supply and resulting in a stroke.

Compared with nonsmokers, smokers experience cardiovascular problems earlier in life, including heart attacks and strokes. This means they are more likely to die from these diseases than nonsmokers, even when controlling for other CVD risk factors such as unhealthy cholesterol levels, high blood pressure and physical inactivity.

Risk of Stroke

Smoking dramatically increases stroke risk, mainly by causing blood vessels to narrow and harden (atherosclerosis), which increases the likelihood of clot formation that can cause blockages in the brain or heart. In addition, smoking causes a global circulatory procoagulant state that alters hemostatic and inflammatory markers in the blood. Studies examining the dose-response relationship between cigarette smoking and stroke risk have shown that even light smokers increase their risks.

A new study published this week in “Smoking Lifestyle” also found that smoking elevates your risk of subarachnoid hemorrhage, or SAH, a type of brain bleed. This type of stroke accounts for 5% of all strokes, and is most common in middle-aged adults. SAH strokes are often fatal. Researchers have also found that standard stroke risk factors — such as high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes — act in synergy with smoking to increase stroke risk.

Risk of Weight Gain

Smoking may suppress appetite, but stopping the habit does not automatically result in weight loss. Instead, a lot of people gain some weight when they stop smoking, which can increase the risk of metabolic disorders.

Many smokers are concerned about gaining weight when they quit, and this may undermine their efforts to stop. However, there are strategies that can help prevent weight gain when you quit smoking.

In one study, obese smokers who called a state quitline were offered a special intervention to manage their weight concerns and reduce their change in weight. This program worked better than standard quitline advice for preventing weight gain, especially among those who had diabetes.[42]

Risk of Cravings

Cravings for high-fat foods, such as chips and candy, are a common side effect of smoking. Other side effects include irritability, hostility, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating and weight gain (1,4).

In models adjusting for demographic variables (age, race/ethnicity, sex, income levels and years of education), BMI and psychological factors (perceived stress and depressive symptoms), the main effect of smoking status on food cravings was confirmed. Current smokers craved high fat foods more frequently than never or former smokers.

Cravings typically last only 5 minutes, so have a plan to avoid or get through them. Keep a water bottle or pencil and paper with you to stay busy. Remind yourself of your reasons for quitting, and remember that each time you resist a craving, you’re one step closer to becoming tobacco-free.