We’ve all heard that smoking is bad for your health, but how much do we actually understand about why it’s bad for us? The three main diseases caused by smoking are cancer, long term respiratory diseases and heart disease.
Cigarette smoke contains over 4000 chemicals, over 40 of these are known to be cancer causing, so it’s no wonder we’re bombarded with messages from the media and the government telling us to quit smoking. When you smoke a cigarette, all of the toxic chemicals enter the lungs and enter our bloodstream. 1 in 15 cigarettes smoked causes a DNA mutation. Mutations are effectively what cancer is, when the Genetic code of a cell is altered and it is no-longer able to regulate it’s duplication. Luckily, our bodies have the ability to fight off most of these mutations before they cause a problem, but occasionally they aren’t able to do so. Each time a mutated cell duplicates itself, the genetic mutation is carried over to the new cell. Eventually these cells build up and a tumour forms. The difference between a cancerous tumour and a benign tumour is that cancer has the ability to spread to other parts of the body and cause tumours there. Smoking is estimated to be responsible for 27% of all cases of cancer.
When smoke enters the lungs, it leaves behind a sticky substance called tar, that clings on to the inside of our lungs. Over a prolonged period of smoking, the tar inside the lungs builds up and causes damage to the alveoli. The alveoli are responsible for extracting oxygen from the air and allowing it into our bloodstream. After years of smoking, a large proportion of the alveoli are no-longer effective and the body will struggle to get enough oxygen. This is why long term smokers often suffer from shortness of breath and are no-longer able to exert themselves with physical activity.
Smoking causes atherosclerosis, which is when fatty deposits build up in the arteries. This effectively narrows the arteries, increasing the risk of angina and heart attacks. When this happens in the coronary artery, this is known as coronary heart disease. The nicotine in cigarettes causes the body to produce adrenalin, which causes the heart to beat faster, which in turn raises blood pressure, increasing the risk of a stroke. Smoking is estimated to be responsible for 12.5% of all cases of heart disease.
The cost of smoking to the NHS per year is estimated to be around £2 billion. It is also estimated that 1 in 5 deaths in the UK are caused by smoking related diseases. Those are some scary figures, that should make you think twice before purchasing your next pack of cigarettes.