To understand why tobacco is harmful, it’s important to understand how it damages nearly every organ in your body. Be it your heart, lungs, blood vessel, mouth, or even skin, no organ is immune from tobacco’s negative effects.
- Cardiovascular system
Smoking has both immediate and long-term consequences for the cardiovascular system. The chemicals in tobacco damage heart muscles and cause blood vessels to narrow. This means smokers under the age of 40 are five times more likely to have a stroke or heart attack. The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke binds to hemoglobin and makes it harder for the blood to carry oxygen to your organs.
- Immune system
Tobacco use has also been shown to weaken the immune system, crippling your ability to fight infections. This makes you more vulnerable to disease and leads to longer-lasting, more severe illnesses. Smokers are also two to four times more likely to develop pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
Studies have linked smoking to brain damage and impaired memory. Tobacco appears to speed up the thinning of the brain’s cortex, responsible for memory, language, and perception. Furthermore, research shows there may be a connection between smoking and dementia or brain shrinkage (cerebral atrophy).
In addition to interfering with the body’s absorption of calcium, the chemicals in tobacco can damage bone cells. Smokers take longer to heal broken bones than nonsmokers, while also being more susceptible to osteoporosis and fractures.
Smoking destroys your airways and the air sacs in your lungs, known as alveoli. It can lead to potentially fatal diseases such as pneumonia, lung cancer, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The tar and chemicals found in tobacco build up in the lungs, causing irritation and lung damage.
Regular tobacco use also boosts your chances of developing mouth and lip, tongue, pharynx, or larynx cancer as well as promoting tooth decay and gum disease. Nicotine restricts blood flow to the mouth, which means that any oral wounds or ulcers will heal much more slowly.
- Reproductive system
- Circulatory system
The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke binds to hemoglobin and restricts the flow of oxygen through your blood. This means that smokers will often experience high blood pressure, damage to the arteries, blood clots, and strokes.
By destroying its protective lining, smoking allows the stomach’s acids to flow back into the esophagus, creating heartburn and increasing the chance for peptic ulcers. Smokers are also more vulnerable to developing stomach and esophageal cancer.
Studies have shown that smokers are twice as likely to have squamous cell carcinoma, the second most common type of skin cancer. Furthermore, tobacco use speeds up the skin’s aging process since nicotine prevents oxygen and nutrients from reaching skin cells.
- Muscular system
The muscles in your body are also negatively impacted by smoking. Smokers tend to have decreased muscle strength, muscle mass and even flexibility.
- Energy levels
Most people who smoke experience lower overall energy levels. This is due to impaired oxygen and nutrient circulation in their blood.
- Mental health
While most smokers depend on cigarettes to temporarily relieve stress, the habit actually increases anxiety, stress, and depression in the long run. Nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine in the body, which is a feel-good hormone that activates the reward center of the brain. Eating sugary or refined foods has a similar effect. Over time, however, tobacco use hampers the body’s ability to produce its own dopamine, creating sometimes lifelong addictions.
- Physical health
On top of the many harmful effects smoking has on your body’s individual organs and systems, decades of research have proven its connection to numerous types of cancer. These include lung cancer, pancreatic cancer, mouth and lip cancer, bladder cancer, and more.
The benefits of quitting
If you’re a smoker who is struggling to quit, you know how difficult it can be to kick the habit. However, the sooner you do it, the greater your chances of reversing the damage. Keep in mind the following benefits of quitting:
- Your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal.
- Carbon monoxide levels return to normal after 12 hours.
- Lung function and circulation increase within 3 months.
- After a year, your chances for coronary heart disease and heart attack are cut in half.
- Within five years, the likelihood of developing several cancers, including mouth, bladder, and throat, is cut in half.
- Your body’s oxygen and nutrient circulation will improve.
- Your immune system can recover and better protect you from illness and infection.
- Experience improved fertility and healthier sex life.
- You’ll have a stronger appetite and sense of smell and taste.
- Enjoy increased sleep quality and duration. (Although insomnia is an early withdrawal symptom, consider following these tips for better sleep after quitting.)
Smoking is proven to have a deeply damaging effect on your body. Tobacco is often linked to a greater chance of heart attack, stroke, several forms of cancer, and fertility problems. The addictive nature of nicotine makes giving up cigarettes extremely difficult. But with quitting comes a wide array of benefits, not to mention the possibility of reversing much of the damage done by smoking.