Dangers of Smoking Cigarettes

Dangers of Smoking

In the past, I’ve told you about the impact toxins can have on your health. But nowhere do you find a more concentrated source of environmental pollutants and chemical toxins than in a single cigarette.

As a former nicotine junkie, I know this isn’t what smokers want to hear. But, whether you currently light up, have quit the habit, or have never smoked at all, this is information you need to know.

The sad truth is that, every eight seconds, someone in the world dies from tobacco use. That translates to approximately 5 million deaths annually. In fact, half of all long-term smokers will die a tobacco-related death. As Clint Eastwood once said, “Do you feel lucky? Well, do ya?”

Then there’s secondhand smoke, which affects anyone living with a smoker – or those working in or visiting a smoke-filled environment. Secondhand smoke contains more than 50 cancer-causing chemical compounds, 11 of which are known to be Group 1 carcinogens. And what about that cigarette smoldering in an ashtray? It turns out that the smoke from a smoldering cigarette can contain higher concentrations of the toxins found in cigarette smoke than exhaled smoke does.

Make Me an Addict

If you think cigarettes are simply tobacco leaves rolled in paper, you’re about 597 ingredients off. Some ingredients are added for flavor, but research shows that the key purpose of using additives is to improve tobacco’s potency. And that means more people who try smoking become addicted. And the additives they are using are shocking.

I remember hearing something about “the list” of tobacco additives back in the 1990s, when tobacco companies first started being taken to task. But seeing the list again now that I’m a former smoker is quite a shock. When burnt, a cigarette spews more than 4,000 chemicals, including over 40 known carcinogenic compounds and 400 other toxins. These include nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide, as well as formaldehyde, ammonia, cyanide, arsenic, and DDT. To think I used to put these toxins in by body, one pack at a time.

Chemical Soup

Once upon a time, cigarettes really were just tobacco and paper. But, allowing the full “flavor” of the tar to come through resulted in a bitter taste. The solution was to add filters and flavorings to improve the taste. But the cigarette manufacturers didn’t stop there. They found that a chemical similar to rocket fuel helps keep the tip of the cigarette burning at an extremely hot temperature, which effectively vaporizes the nicotine. Adding ammonia to cigarettes allows this nicotine vapor to be absorbed through the lungs more quickly. This, in turn, means your brain can get a higher dose of nicotine with each inhalation. Now that’s efficiency.

Here’s a list of the most toxic ingredients used to make cigarettes tastier, more stimulating, and more addictive:

Ammonia: Household cleaner.
Arsenic: Used in rat poisons.
Benzene: Used in making dyes, synthetic rubber.
Butane: Gas; used in lighter fluid.
Carbon monoxide: Poisonous gas.
Cadmium: Used in batteries.
Cyanide: Lethal poison.
DDT: A banned insecticide.
Ethyl Furoate: Causes liver damage in animals.
Lead: Poisonous in high doses.
Formaldehyde: Used to preserve dead specimens.
Methoprene: Insecticide.
Maltitol: Sweetener for diabetics.
Napthalene: Ingredient in mothballs.
Methyl isocyanate: Its accidental release killed 2,000 people in Bhopal in 1984.
Polonium: Cancer-causing radioactive element.

Quitting Time

Most smokers have a defense built up, making it easy to ignore the facts. Some smokers want to quit – they really do – but they’re afraid they won’t be able to, or they can’t imagine life without cigarettes. Quitting is hard, maybe the hardest thing you’ll ever do.

Why is it so hard to quit? Nicotine. Nicotine is an organic compound found in the leaves of several species of plants, predominantly tobacco. Nicotine by itself isn’t carcinogenic. However, it does interfere with the body’s ability to destroy potentially cancerous cells. Nicotine also activates acetylcholine receptors, which leads to an increased flow of adrenaline (epinephrine), which increases the heart rate, blood pressure, respiration, and glucose levels in the blood.

When smokers try to cut back or quit smoking, they experience nicotine withdrawal.  Withdrawal symptoms appear within a few hours and peak 24 to 48 hours after quitting. Withdrawal symptoms include tobacco craving, a desire for sweets, increased coughing, and impaired performance on tasks that require concentration.

Most symptoms last an average of one month, but hunger (due to the lack of increased blood glucose) and food cravings can last for six months or more. But, while these symptoms may last for months after you quit, the benefits of quitting can begin in as little as 20 minutes after your last cigarette.

o In 20 minutes, your blood pressure and pulse rate decrease, and the body temperature of your hands and feet increase.
o At 8 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood decreases to normal. With the decrease in carbon monoxide, your blood oxygen level increases to normal.
o At 24 hours, your risk of having a heart attack decreases.
o At 48 hours, nerve endings start to re-grow, and the ability to smell and taste is enhanced.
o Between 2 weeks and 3 months, your circulation improves, walking becomes easier, and you don’t cough or wheeze as often. Phlegm production decreases. Within several months, you have significant improvement in lung function.
o In 1 to 9 months, coughing, sinus congestion, fatigue, and shortness of breath decrease as you continue to see significant improvement in lung function. Cilia – tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs – regain normal function.
o In 1 year, risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack is reduced to half that of a smoker.
o Between 5 and 15 years after quitting, your risk of having a stroke returns to that of a non-smoker.
o In 10 years, your risk of lung cancer drops. Additionally, your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney, and pancreas decrease. Your risk of developing an ulcer also decreases.
o In 15 years, your risk of coronary heart disease and heart attack is similar to that of people who have never smoked. The risk of death returns to nearly the level of a non-smoker.

One Last Thing …

If you’re a smoker, and you’ve decided to quit, good for you! You’re doing yourself and everyone you know a huge favor. Of course, there are numerous products on the market that can help you quit. But I’d like to mention some unconventional ways that just might work for you.

The most effective is acupuncture. Those tiny needles carry potent help if you’re trying to quit. Studies show that acupuncture boosts feel-good neurochemicals like endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine. This not only dampens the desire to smoke, it also brings about a sense of calm. But, be aware that you need to undergo repeated acupuncture sessions for this to truly help you quit for good.

If needles aren’t for you, St. John’s wort can also help you quit. This herbal antidepressant was recently found to lessen cravings in smokers. St. John’s wort works by increasing levels of dopamine in the brain. Low levels of this neurotransmitter may increase cravings and even depression. According to one clinical trial by researchers at the University of London, taking 300 mg. of St. John’s wort once or twice daily one week before and for three months after a target quit date was effective for helping smokers quit.

Research Brief …

As we age, brain cells shrink, the supply of blood to brain tissue dips, and chemical messengers called neurotransmitters decrease – resulting in sharp declines in cognition. But there’s an easy way to avoid this age-related brain drain: Get moving!

A new review of studies in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that regular exercise can reverse this cognitive decline, boosting the volume of brain tissue, increasing neurotransmitters, and replenishing the brain’s blood supply. Some of the studies found that just six months of aerobic activity reversed aging’s impact on the brain and improved an older brain’s ability to grow and develop.