“Smoking kills” and “smoking is harmful to your health”—You’ve probably heard these warnings, not the least because they are legally mandated for tobacco products in many countries. And you know it’s true! But what you might not know is the specific ways smoking can wreck your health.
Keep reading to find just 12 negative effects smoking can have on your well-being, which you’ll hopefully take as reasons to kick the habit, pronto!
Smoking causes several respiratory problems in the long and short term.
This includes coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath, and it only gets worse the longer you keep up the habit. “[Smoking] can paralyze the mucociliary function of the respiratory tract lining; thereby, noxious agents, bacteria and viruses can easily enter our lungs,” says pulmonologist Dr. Lakan Florenio U. Beratio II, MD, FPCP, FPCCP. “Respiratory diseases associated with smoking include: chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, exacerbation of asthma, and interstitial lung disease.”
It’ll hurt your heart too.
Think a nasty breakup is source for hugot? Try heart disease on for size. According to the British Heart Foundation, smoking:
- damages the lining of your arteries, narrowing them through a buildup of fatty material, which in turn can cause angina, heart attack, or stroke.
- causes you to inhale carbon monoxide from tobacco smoke, reducing the amount of oxygen in your blood so your heart has to work harder
- gives you a nicotine-driven increase in adrenaline, which also makes your heart work harder because this hormone raises your blood pressure and makes your heart beat faster
- increases your likelihood of developing blood clots, which in turn ups your risk of heart attack or stroke
You won’t just be in for pain and suffering for yourself and your family, but health crises such as these will make a hefty dent on your pocket.
It increases your cancer risk.
And it’s not just lung cancer you’re risking! According to the American Cancer Society, smoking increases your risk factor for cancers in the following parts of your body:
- Larynx (voice box)
- Pharynx (throat)
- Blood cells (through myeloid leukemia)
The ACS is firm on this point—“Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and spit and other types of smokeless tobacco all cause cancer. There is no safe way to use tobacco.”
Women who smoke risk infertility.
Several studies have linked smoking to hormonal issues that can make it harder for women to become pregnant. Plus, if your guy smokes or is exposed to second-hand smoke, it can increase his risk of erectile dysfunction and of having damaged DNA in his sperm, which can also reduce fertility.
Women who smoke while pregnant risk complications.
The CDC cites several ways smoking can negatively affect your pregnancy as well as the health of your baby. Smoking while pregnant puts both the mom’s and the baby’s health at risk—and even if you say that you’ll quit smoking when you learn you’re pregnant, most pregnancies are not discovered until at least a month has passed; in some cases as many as three or more months. Those are months in which your body and your baby are exposed to the harmful toxins from your cigarette habit. Here are a few risks that increase when smoking is a factor:
- ectopic pregnancy and miscarriage
- low birth weight and preterm delivery (which are leading causes of infant disability and death)
- damage to lungs, brain, and central nervous system
- congenital abnormalities like cleft lip and/or cleft palate
- sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
You put others’ health in danger too, via secondhand smoke exposure.
You’ve probably heard of secondhand smoke (SHS), also known as environmental tobacco smoke. You may know that it affects the health of people exposed to it, through what’s called involuntary or passive smoking. And if you find this is something easy to dismiss, you have another think coming.
The ACS defines secondhand smoke as a combination of mainstream smoke (the smoke exhaled by a smoker) and sidestream smoke, which is smoke from the lighted end of a cigarette, and which “has higher concentrations of cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) and is more toxic than mainstream smoke. It also has smaller particles than mainstream smoke. These smaller particles make their way into the lungs and the body’s cells more easily.”
And it doesn’t just happen when you light up with friends and family. According to a fact sheet by the International Labour Organization (ILO), in the Philippines, as many as three out of four people are exposed to second-hand smoke via their workplaces, especially if these do not have any anti-smoking policies.
E-cigarettes aren’t good for you either.
“Initial studies show it also causes respiratory problems,” Dr. Beratio explains.
Despite the marketing hype that electronic nicotine delivery systems like vape pens or e-cigars are a safe way to inhale nicotine without being exposed to other toxic components that come with smoking cigarettes, it seems that preliminary studies are showing these are no healthier for your body than OG cancer sticks.
For example, one study links e-cigarette use in young adults to increased rates of chronic bronchitic symptoms. Another study found that e-cigarette use increased vapers’ fractional exhaled nitric oxide (FeNO), which is an indicator of airway inflammation, and concluded that the pollutants from vape pens could have harmful effects not just on users but also those with secondhand smokers.
You could experience vision loss.
Maybe not right now, but this can lead to issues with your sight down the road. For one thing, the US National Eye Institute reports that research indicates smoking doubles your risk of age-related macular degeneration (AMD), which is an eye condition that is the leading cause of vision loss in people aged 50 and above. While it doesn’t cause complete blindness, this condition is characterized by a blurred area or even blanks spots in or near your center of vision as well as darkened vision. This can compromise your ability to see faces, drive, read and write, or do any sort of work that requires you to be able to see what you’re doing, such as cooking or housework.
Apart from AMD, smoking also increases your risk of developing cataracts, glaucoma, and dry-eye syndrome.
You increase your risk of developing type 2 diabetes.
Smoking increases your chances of developing type 2 diabetes, and it also increases your chances of developing complications from this disease. This includes heart and kidney disease, retinopathy (an eye disease that can lead to blindness), nerve damage called peripheral neuropathy that can affect your arms and legs, and poor blood flow to the legs and feet, which, according to the CDC, “can lead to infections, ulcers, and possible amputation (removal of a body part by surgery, such as toes or feet).”
Smoking makes you look older.
“Smoking promotes premature skin aging,” says Dr. Kyla Talens, an aesthetic dermatologist at Skin Philosophie in BGC. “Wrinkles develop faster due to impaired blood flow to the skin caused by nicotine. Pursing the lips and squinting when inhaling cigarette smoke also predisposes one to formation of lines around the mouth and crow’s feet, respectively.
It wrecks your smile.
“Smoking is mostly associated with tooth discoloration and staining, but it goes further than that,” says Dr. Pocholo Yrastorza, dentist at Dental Innovations in Cebu. “Smoking also causes impaired oxygen circulation within your gums that make them more susceptible to infections such as periodontal disease.”
It reduces your ability to taste food properly.
Studies indicate that smoking has a negative effect on your taste buds. That is to say, smokers, especially heavy smokers with a high nicotine dependence, experience lower taste sensitivity than nonsmokers. So not only does smoking impact your health, it also messes up how much you can appreciate some of life’s simple pleasures—like yummy food! The good news is that research has shown recovery begins in certain taste buds as quickly as two weeks after you quit smoking, although it may take two months or more for other taste buds to recover.
Here are a few last things to remember, if you are a smoker:
It’s never too soon or too late to quit! By quitting, you are saving your own life, reducing your risk of disease and early death significantly. In fact, according to the CDC, your risk of heart disease drops significantly within just one to two years of quitting—and that’s only one in a long list of other health risks that come with smoking.
Don’t be afraid to look or ask for help and support. Smoking isn’t just a bad habit; it’s an addiction to nicotine. This makes quitting even harder, so it’s a good idea to check out online resources (such as the CDC’s Quit Smoking Resources page) as well as offline ones (like counselling and medication). Find the best ways for you to quit (and remember different strategies work for different people), but one thing is pretty much guaranteed to help: get your friends and family to support your efforts!
See a doctor ASAP, even if you feel fine. “As long as the person smokes, he/she should see a doctor for evaluation without waiting for any symptoms,” says Dr. Beratio. Smoking, especially habitual smoking, can do damage you might not even feel yet, and this can happen quickly, especially when other factors compromise your immune system, such as stress and unhealthy diet and exercise regimens. Get checked—it’s better to be safe than sorry!
Dr. Lakan Florenio U. Beratio II, MD, FPCP, FPCCP, specializes in Internal Medicine and Pulmonology and keeps clinic hours at Tagaytay Medical Center, E. Aguinaldo Highway, Silang Crossing East, Tagaytay City.
Dr. Kyla Talens keeps clinic hours at Skin Philosophie, 3/F B3 Bonifacio High Street 9th Ave corner Lane P, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, Metro Manila.
Dr. Pocholo Yrastorza is at Dental Innovations on Queen’s Road (near Redemptorist Church) in Cebu City.