When your parents were young, people could buy cigarettes and
smoke pretty much anywhere - even in hospitals! Ads for cigarettes
were all over the place. Today we're more aware about how bad
smoking is for our health. Smoking is restricted or banned in
almost all public places and cigarette companies are no longer
allowed to advertise on TV, radio, and in many magazines.
Almost everyone knows that smoking causes cancer, emphysema, and
heart disease; that it can shorten your life by 10 years or more;
and that the habit can cost a smoker thousands of dollars a year.
So how come people are still lighting up? The answer, in a word, is
Once You Start, It's Hard to Stop
Smoking is a hard habit to break because tobacco contains
nicotine, which is highly addictive. Like heroin or other addictive
drugs, the body and mind quickly become so used to the nicotine in
cigarettes that a person needs to have it just to feel normal.
People start smoking for a variety of different reasons. Some
think it looks cool. Others start because their family members or
friends smoke. Statistics show that about 9 out of 10 tobacco users
start before they're 18 years old. Most adults who started
smoking in their teens never expected to become addicted.
That's why people say it's just so much easier to not start
smoking at all.
How Smoking Affects Your Health
There are no physical reasons to start smoking. The body
doesn't need tobacco the way it needs food, water, sleep, and
exercise. In fact, many of the chemicals in cigarettes, like
nicotine and cyanide, are actually poisons that can kill in high
The body is smart. It goes on the defense when it's being
poisoned. For this reason, many people find it takes several tries
to get started smoking: First-time smokers often feel pain or
burning in the throat and lungs, and some people feel sick or even
throw up the first few times they try tobacco.
The consequences of this poisoning happen gradually. Over the
long term, smoking leads people to develop health problems like
heart disease, stroke, emphysema (breakdown of lung tissue), and
many types of cancer - including lung, throat, stomach, and
bladder cancer. People who smoke also have an increased risk of
infections like bronchitis and pneumonia.
These diseases limit a person's ability to be normally
active, and they can be fatal. Each time a smoker lights up, that
single cigarette takes about 5 to 20 minutes off the person's
Smokers not only develop wrinkles and yellow teeth, they also
lose bone density, which increases their risk of osteoporosis
-sus), a condition that causes older people to become bent over and
their bones to break more easily. Smokers also tend to be less
active than nonsmokers because smoking affects lung power.
Smoking can also cause fertility problems and can impact sexual
health in both men and women. Girls who are on the pill or other
hormone-based methods of birth control (like the patch or the ring)
increase their risk of serious health problems, such as heart
attacks, if they smoke.
The consequences of smoking may seem very far off, but long-term
health problems aren't the only hazard of smoking. Nicotine and
the other toxins in cigarettes, cigars, and pipes can affect a
person's body quickly, which means that teen smokers experience
many of these problems:
Because smoking restricts blood vessels, it can prevent oxygen
and nutrients from getting to the skin - which is why smokers
often appear pale and unhealthy. An Italian study also linked
smoking to an increased risk of getting a type of skin rash
Cigarettes leave smokers with a condition called halitosis, or
persistent bad breath.
Bad-smelling clothes and hair.
The smell of stale smoke tends to linger - not just on
people's clothing, but on their hair, furniture, and cars.
And it's often hard to get the smell of smoke out.
Reduced athletic performance.
People who smoke usually can't compete with nonsmoking peers
because the physical effects of smoking (like rapid heartbeat,
decreased circulation, and shortness of breath) impair sports
Greater risk of injury and slower healing time.
Smoking affects the body's ability to produce collagen, so
common sports injuries, such as damage to tendons and ligaments,
will heal more slowly in smokers than nonsmokers.
Increased risk of illness.
Studies show that smokers get more colds, flu, bronchitis, and
pneumonia than nonsmokers. And people with certain health
conditions, like asthma, become more sick if they smoke (and
often if they're just around people who smoke). Because teens
who smoke as a way to manage weight often light up instead of
eating, their bodies lack the nutrients they need to grow,
develop, and fight off illness properly.
Kicking Butts and Staying Smoke Free
All forms of tobacco - cigarettes, pipes, cigars, and smokeless
tobacco - are hazardous. It doesn't help to substitute products
that seem like they're better for you than regular cigarettes,
such as filtered or low-tar cigarettes.
The only thing that really helps a person avoid the problems
associated with smoking is staying smoke free. This isn't
always easy, especially if everyone around you is smoking and
offering you cigarettes. It may help to have your reasons for not
smoking ready for times you may feel the pressure, such as "I
just don't like it" or "I want to stay in shape for
soccer" (or football, basketball, or other sport).
The good news for people who don't smoke or who want to quit
is that studies show that the number of teens who smoke has dropped
dramatically. Today, about 23% of high school students smoke.
If you do smoke and want to quit, you have lots of
information and support available. Different approaches to quitting
work for different people. For some, quitting cold turkey is best.
Others find that a slower approach is the way to go. Some people
find that it helps to go to a support group especially for teens.
These are sometimes sponsored by local hospitals or organizations
like the American Cancer Society. The Internet offers a number of
good resources to help people quit smoking.
When quitting, it can be helpful to realize that the first few
days are the hardest. So don't give up. Some people find they have
a few relapses before they manage to quit for good.
Staying smoke free will give you a whole lot more of everything
- more energy, better performance, better looks, more money in your
pocket, and, in the long run, more life to live!
Larissa Hirsch, MD
Date reviewed: August 2007
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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