The Facts and the Fix – Smoking
This blog series is not designed to judge those that partake in any of the substances mentioned in the Facts and Fix series. It is merely a statement of the facts about the effects they have on your body in the short, medium and long-term and a possible selection of fixes should you wish to avoid the negative consequences. That’s all. This blog is all about smoking tobacco…
Here’s the facts…
Smoking’s social – As human beings we have an innate desire to socialise and form bonds with other humans with common interests. This is how tribes are formed. People bond over the fact they’re in the smoking shelter together on a break from work, or their last pint/glass of wine. “Do you have a light?” is the perfect conversation starter with someone you don’t know. This often moves on to better, more meaningful conversation. Trying to resist the “…you coming for a fag?” is like the “…are you getting a dessert?” question. You’ll more than likely get a dessert if other people are having them. It’s a shared experience which is a form of human bonding that we all crave.
Smoking’s soothing – It doesn’t have to be just a social thing though. Smoking has a wonderful ability to calm us down. If you’re stressed or need a break from the mundane the combination of a number of breaths followed by a nicotine pick-me up can be the perfect solution. Smoking is said to stimulate pleasing and enjoyable emotions, and smokers claim that it helps boost their mood, alleviates minor depression and small fits of anger, improves concentration and short-term memory, and can also provide a modest sense of well-being. This is because cigarettes contain the addictive substance nicotine that stimulates dopamine in the brain, which is responsible for the “pleasurable sensations.”
So why wouldn’t we do it? It makes us look cooler/more attractive, it allows us to form social bonds with fellow humans, and calms us down when we’re stressed out or nervous…
Some more facts…
Cigarette smoke contains about 5000 different chemicals and toxins, including 70 known cancer causing chemical compounds. The most dangerous compounds are tar, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, hydrogen cyanide, metals, ammonia, and radioactive compounds.
On inhalation of that first drag a number of things happen:
- The body immediately responds to the highly addictive chemical nicotine and elevates the heart rate. This feels good. It is known as the ‘nicotine rush’ (N.B – the more you smoke, the more your nerve cells become immune to the pleasure brought on by smoking. As a result, smokers tend to increase their intake of nicotine to get that desirable feeling from smoking…)
- Carbon Monoxide fills the lungs and makes its way into the blood stream via the alveoli, increasing the volume of carbon monoxide in the blood. The associated decrease in lung capacity combined with the massively decreased oxygen carrying capability of the blood creates an imbalance in the amount of oxygen required by cells and the amount of oxygen that can be required by the blood stream.
- Arteries restrict, increasing overall blood pressure which further impacts the oxygenated blood flow supply-demand issue.
On finishing the cigarette and returning to your desk/chair, the smoke that hasn’t been inhaled makes its way into your clothes, hair and skin. The smell lingers. You now smell of burnt tobacco which has a chemically, ash like smell that some people may find unpleasant. Others like the smell because it reminds them of smoking which they enjoy. Depends on the group you’re in.
The tobacco smoke has deposited smoke particles in your mouth and lungs which contain over 60 aromatic hydro-carbons, the most notable of which are ethyl pyrrole, 2,3-dimethyl pyrazine and 2-ethyl pyridine as these are the most pungent. The smoke has dried out the pallet because of it’s warmth, creating the perfectly dry, warm conditions needed for anaerobic bacteria to flourish. The combination of this in the mouth and lungs, and the increased tar build up leads to what some may describe as an unsavoury smell in the breath. Again, it depends on the group but most people don’t enjoy this smell and may comment on it leaving you feeling self-conscious.
As smoke passes through your mouth into the lungs, the nicotine and tar deposit themselves on your teeth. Over time these deposits build themselves up and create a mustard like stain on your teeth. The chemicals within these deposits increase the risk of gum disease and receding gums by nearly 100%, as well as increasing your teeths’ sensitivity and susceptibility to cavities.
The above are just the short-term effects. These are the facts about the more long-term effects…
If you are a long-term smoker, on average, your life expectancy is about 10 years less than a non-smoker. Put another way, in the UK about 8 in 10 non-smokers live past the age of 70 but only about half of long-term smokers live past 70. Sure you get these unicorns that smoke 20 a day and live to a ripe old age. Do you really want to take that gamble though?
About 100,000 people in the UK die each year due to smoking. Smoking-related deaths are mainly due to cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease.
Cancers – About 30,000 people in the UK die from lung cancer each year. More than 8 in 10 cases are directly related to smoking. As well as lung cancer, you can also develop cancer of the oral cavity, pharynx, larynx, esophagus, pancreas, kidney, bladder, and cervix. Recent evidence also links smoking with cancer of the large intestine and some forms of leukemia.
Circulation – The chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of the blood vessels and increase the level of fats (lipids) in the bloodstream. This increases the risk of atheroma forming (sometimes called hardening of the arteries). Atheroma is the main cause of heart disease, strokes, poor circulation in the legs (peripheral vascular disease) and swollen arteries which can burst causing internal bleeding (aneurysms). All these atheroma-related diseases are more common in smokers. Heart disease is the biggest killer illness in the UK. About 120,000 people in the UK die each year from heart disease. About 1 in 6 of these is due to smoking tobacco. To add yet more misery to circulatory conditions, smokers are more likely than non-smokers to have erection problems (impotence) or have difficulty in maintaining an erection in middle life. This is thought to be due to smoking-related damage of the blood vessels to the penis.
COPD – About 25,000 people in the UK die each year from this serious lung disease. More than 8 in 10 of these deaths are directly linked to smoking. People who die of COPD are usually quite unwell for several years before they die and life isn’t too pleasant. You can’t really do much as you’re always out of breath! Emphysema, a similar condition whereby the very small airways that join the tiny air sacs (alveoli) lose their elasticity, causes a person to lose the ability to exhale fully, disturbing the chemical balance of the blood. There is currently no cure for emphysema.
As well as all the above you massively increase your risk of things such as rheumatoid arthritis, early onset menopause, dementia, optic neuropathy, cataracts, and osteoporosis. It will more than likely make things like asthma, colds, flu and chest infections a hell of a lot worse. And to top this all off it will probably make you look a little bit older than you actually are too.
So those are the facts. Simply stated for you to make your own mind up. From here you have a choice. You can continue to smoke despite the above, or you can choose to do something about it and not accept the above for yourself.
Seek help and support – Help and support is all around for quitting smoking and this comes in various forms. The NHS Stop Smoking Programme is free and very effective.
“The majority of people who see an adviser will get through the first month after quitting without smoking a cigarette. And overall, you’re up to four times more likely to stop smoking for good if you receive help from an NHS Stop Smoking Service.” – Jennifer Percival, NHS Stop Smoking Scheme
You can find out more about what they do here – http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/smoking/Pages/NHS-stop-smoking-adviser.aspx. There’s any number of ways to get in touch. Either through your GP or by calling the National Smokeless helpline – 0300 123 1044.
Paid for Therapies – If you’re prepared to invest, a number of people find Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or Hypnotherapy very useful. With these therapies, they may look into the root cause of why you smoke and why you currently hold onto it as a habit despite the knowledge that it is doing you harm. They may be able to give you useful tools to help when the cravings are at their worst or at least give you the power of choice when it comes to your addiction.
Find a very good reason – Nothing motivates a person more than when they have a very compelling reason to do something. You hear stories all the time about how children ask their parents to quit and this becomes their reason. As soon as you realise that it isn’t just you affected by the addiction, it’s your family and friends as well, it then becomes a lot easier to become motivated to quit.
We hope you have enjoyed this article or that it has stimulated some thought. The next article in the facts and the fix series will be on Alcohol.