Amanda has taught high school science for over 10 years. They have a Master's Degree in Cellular and Molecular Physiology from Tufts Medical School and a Master's of Teaching from Simmons College. They also are certified in secondary special education, biology, and physics in Massachusetts.
What Does Smoking Do to Your Body?
Picture a coal mine. Covered in soot with ash everywhere, miners emerge coughing, covered in black dust. Many will experience the classic 'miner's lung,' where the lungs become poisoned with coal dust, creating long lasting problems like the disease emphysema. Although fewer folks work in U.S. coal mines today, many people pollute their lungs in a similar way by smoking cigarettes. Smoking cigarettes causes damage not only to the lungs, but other parts of the body as well. The toxins in cigarettes cause cancer, lung disease, heart disease, and stroke.
Cigarettes contain over 60 carcinogenic chemicals, or chemicals that cause mutations in DNA. The mutated cells divide out of control and lose their function, causing cancer, or uncontrolled cell growth. The cancer cells crowd out normal, healthy cells and prevent them from doing their jobs. Without functional cells, the organs quickly shut down and die. Cigarettes are known to cause lung cancer, but many other types of cancer are found in smokers as well, such as mouth, liver, stomach, colon and kidney cancer.
Reasons to Quit Smoking
There are lots of good reasons to quit smoking. Let's review a few of them.
Cigarettes can be a huge expense to users. At an average of $6.36 per pack in the United States, with the highest prices in New York at over $14 a pack, smoking can quickly add up as a monthly expense. Some smokers can consume a pack of cigarettes a day or more, increasing their monthly budget by over $200.
Even casual smokers can find themselves in a predicament. The chemical in tobacco, nicotine, is extremely addictive. Relatively infrequent smokers can find themselves craving more and more tobacco, which is how people end up smoking packs of cigarettes each day. This leads to another reason to quit smoking early on, or avoid starting all together. Since nicotine is an addictive compound, the longer you smoke, the harder it will be to quit.
Clearly, cigarettes are terrible for your health. Quitting smoking can decrease your risk of many diseases, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, and lung disease. The immediate effects of quitting are enormous. Blood pressure and heart rate slow down and a chemical called carbon monoxide decreases. This chemical is not normally found in the body, but is created through smoking. It causes your body to not move oxygen as efficiently, which we need to make energy.
After a year of quitting, your risk for heart disease is cut in half, and after five years, your risk for stroke decreases to that of a non-smoker. Although the harm you have done to your DNA won't be repaired, the longer you stop smoking, the lower your risk for cancer will be. After ten years, your risk for lung cancer will be half that of a non-smoker. Of course, all these benefits depend on how much you smoked. Casual smokers will experience recovery faster than heavy smokers.
Second hand smoke is cigarette smoke that is inhaled nearby from someone else who is smoking. Second hand smoke is also dangerous and can cause adverse health effects. So even if a person is willing to take the risk of smoking, they are also endangering people around them.
Second hand smoke leads to lung, brain, kidney, liver and other cancers, even in people who have never smoked. High blood pressure and increased risk for cardiovascular disease is also prevalent in patients who hang around smokers. In children, second hand smoke is especially dangerous, leading to lung infections, shortness of breath, sickness and possibly an increased risk for brain cancer and lymphoma.
Getting Help to Quit
There are multiple strategies that can be used to quit smoking.
Quitting smoking as soon as possible is crucial for decreasing your health risks. When you feel ready to quit, make a list of all the reasons you want to do it. When you feel your willpower crumbing, check your list and reaffirm your desire for a healthy life.
It is also important to mentally acknowledge the hardship to come. The first few days will be the worst, and you can expect to experience strong cravings. By accepting this upfront, it will be easier to persevere through the challenges. Think of it like heading into the gym for a hard workout. You remind yourself why you want to go, put on some motivating music and get started. You know its going to be hard, but by acknowledging this before you go, you can be more successful.
Journaling your smoking triggers before and after quitting can also be helpful. Crave a cigarette when you're tired, had a bad day at work, or when you are drinking? Make a list to help you avoid situations that will make the cravings worse.
Many people think e-cigarettes, or electronic cigarettes used for vaping, are a good alternative to smoking tobacco. However, this product is completely unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Companies are not monitored for what goes into their products, and original studies found toxic chemicals in some brands. Since electronic cigarettes have not been extensively studied for safety, e-cigarettes are not recommended as a strategy to quit smoking.
However, there are medical solutions you can get from your doctor. Nicotine replacement therapy is a way to ease nicotine cravings while you quit. Gum, lozenges or patches that distribute nicotine to the body can be taken to ease withdrawal symptoms. The goal is to slowly stop using these products, as well to become nicotine free.
If you are unsuccessful at quitting with these products, or are a very heavy smoker, there are prescription medications to help you quit. Bupropion is an anti-depressant drug that can help ease the symptoms of withdrawal. Doctors prescribe this for about three months to help you quit, and then the drug is discontinued. Varenicline is another prescription drug that blocks the messages nicotine sends to your body. If nicotine can't interact with the cells in your brain, it no longer feels good to smoke.
Smoking cigarettes leads to many health problems, such as cancer, lung disease, cardiovascular disease and stroke. Quitting smoking leads to health benefits even hours after quitting. Years after quitting, the risks are decreased substantially. Quitting smoking can also improve your budget, as smoking can quickly become an expensive habit. Second hand smoke can damage people you love, increasing their risk for heart and lung disease as well. Emotional strategies, nicotine replacement therapy and prescriptions drugs are available to help you quit.
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