The truth about smoking

Thinking about giving up cigarettes? If you’ve tried before without success, you may feel unsure about whether you can quit for good. You may also wonder how to prepare for such a big change — or why it’s so important to quit. Start by learning everything you can about the health risks of smoking — for you and your loved ones.

Up in Smoke

When you smoke, toxins are carried by your blood to every organ in your body. At the same time, the carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke keeps blood from carrying as much oxygen as normal. As a result, the cells throughout your body are deprived of the oxygen that they need to work properly.

The bottom line: Smoking harms your entire body.The lesser-known health risks of smoking include the following:

  • Bones weakening in postmenopausal women and hip fractures

  • Cancers of the cervix, pancreas, stomach, kidneys, mouth, esophagus, larynx (voice box), throat, and bladder

  • Cataracts

  • Gum disease, which can lead to tooth loss

  • Increased risk for infection

  • Fertility issues in women

  • A higher risk for pneumonia and other airway infections

  • Pregnancy complications and premature birth

In the long run, cigarettes rob many smokers of life itself. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men who smoke lose an average of 13.2 years from their life, and women who smoke lose an average of 14.5 years. About half of all lifetime smokers wind up dying early of smoking-related causes.

Positive Effects

Despite these grim statistics, there’s good news, too. For one thing, it’s never too late to stub out that last cigarette. Even if you’ve smoked for decades, you can reap benefits by quitting. These benefits start as soon as you quit. Within 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate drops, and within 12 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood returns to normal. And the longer you stay quit, the more benefits you’ll see. Within one year, your added risk for coronary heart disease will be cut in half, and within 15 years, your risk will be the same as a nonsmoker.

If these health benefits don’t motivate you to quit, then do it for those around you. A 2006 Surgeon General’s report shows just how risky secondhand smoke can be. When adult nonsmokers are exposed to cigarette smoke at home or work, their risk for lung cancer is increased by 20 to 30 percent. They also have a higher level of “bad” cholesterol and risk for heart disease. In babies and children, secondhand smoke can cause sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), respiratory problems, ear infections, and asthma attacks.

Most Smokers Want to Quit

With all the evidence piling up, it’s little wonder that studies show most smokers want to quit. If you’re in that group, don’t be discouraged if you’ve tried to quit in the past and been unsuccessful. Most of today’s ex-smokers needed more than one try, too. Look at your past attempts as learning experiences. Think about what made you go back to smoking last time, and think about what you will do this time instead of smoking. You learn something from each quit attempt that helps you do better on the next one.

To quit for keeps this time, know your enemy. The nicotine in tobacco is extremely addictive. When you try to quit, the absence of nicotine can lead to withdrawal symptoms, such as:

  • Dizziness

  • Headache

  • Fatigue

  • Depression

  • Increased appetite

  • Trouble sleeping

  • Irritability, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating

  • Strong urges to smoke

Physically, your body is reacting to the lack of nicotine. Psychologically, your mind is struggling to give up the habit of smoking. The most effective quit-smoking programs combine medication with counseling and emotional support to help you quit. Research shows that this combination can double your chance of quitting for good.


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“Harms of Smoking and Health Benefits of Quitting.” National Cancer Institute, January 12, 2011. Accessed 2013.

“Guide to Quitting Smoking.” American Cancer Society. Accessed 2013.

“Cigarette Smoking: Health Risks and How to Quit.” National Cancer Institute, U.S. National Institutes of Health, Oct. 22, 2009. Accessed 2013.

“Gum Disease.” Mouth Healthy, American Dental Association. Accessed 2013.

"Quit Smoking.”, National Cancer Institute. Accessed 2013.

“Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. June 27, 2006 Accessed 2013.

“Cancer Trends Progress Report 2011-12 Update: Quitting Smoking.” National Cancer Institute. Accessed 2013.

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