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Tobacco and Disease: Conditions Caused by Smoking

July 5, 2023
By Pivot
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Over 16 million people in the United States live with a disease caused by smoking. Studies show that people who smoke are at a greater risk of:

  • strokes
  • diabetes
  • lung cancer
  • tuberculosis
  • emphysema
  • heart attacks
  • pulmonary fibrosis
  • adult-onset asthma
  • peripheral artery disease 
  • long-term coughing and shortness of breath
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) 
  • various types of cancer, including cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, kidney, cervix, and stomach

While all of this sounds overwhelming, it’s essential to understand the consequences smoking can have on one’s health. 

Here’s an overview of the most common chronic conditions caused by smoking.

Cancer

Lung Cancer

Among all the smoking-related diseases, lung cancer is arguably the most well-known. This makes sense since smoking is responsible for up to 90% of all lung cancer cases in the U.S.

Smoking is the perfect storm of chemicals and cancer-causing carcinogens. Many of these chemicals damage the lungs and trigger cellular mutations, which can lead to cancerous tumors. 

Some of these substances include:

  • lead
  • arsenic
  • benzene
  • ammonia
  • formaldehyde
  • carbon monoxide
  • hydrogen cyanide
  • tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs)
  • radioactive elements like polonium-210
  • polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)

A note on nicotine: Nicotine doesn’t cause cancer on its own. However, it’s a highly addictive substance and can drive a person to smoke. So in a sense, nicotine indirectly contributes to cancer.

Quitting smoking can significantly reduce your chances of lung cancer. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, a person who has been smoke-free for 10 years is half as likely to develop lung cancer compared to those who still smoke after 10 to 15 years. 

Other forms of cancer

The carcinogens in tobacco smoke damage the lungs and can travel through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, triggering the formation of cancerous cells. Beyond lung cancer, smoking can increase the risk of developing other forms of cancer. This includes cancers of the:

  • mouth
  • throat
  • cervix
  • kidney
  • bladder
  • stomach
  • pancreas
  • esophagus

It’s never too late to quit smoking. Even if you’ve smoked for a long time, quitting now can still reduce your risk of these cancers.

Cardiovascular Diseases

Smoking poses a significant risk to the cardiovascular system. The toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke – particularly nicotine and carbon monoxide – contribute to the narrowing and hardening of blood vessels. This leads to reduced blood flow and an increased risk of blood clots. Over time, this can result in:

  • strokes
  • heart attacks
  • peripheral artery disease
  • other serious cardiovascular complications

Quitting smoking can dramatically reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and improve heart health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), smoking cessation can also help those who already have coronary heart disease. They say that quitting smoking reduces the: 

  • death due to cardiac causes 
  • new and recurrent cardiac events 
  • risk of all-cause death and sudden death

Respiratory conditions

The chronic inflammation caused by smoking can also scar the tender tissue that lines the lungs. People who smoke are at a higher risk of severe respiratory conditions like:

  • pneumonia
  • emphysema
  • tuberculosis
  • chronic bronchitis
  • pulmonary fibrosis
  • adult-onset asthma
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (more details below)

Beyond severe diseases, smoking can harm your breathing in general. Tobacco products can lead to frequent coughing, sore throats, reduced lung function, wheezing, and frequent asthma attacks.

The good news? Quitting smoking can significantly reduce your risk of respiratory disease and improve your overall health and lung function.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)

COPD is an umbrella term for progressive lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Smoking is the primary cause of COPD, and it exacerbates its progression. 

The inhalation of tobacco smoke irritates and inflames the airways, causing them to narrow and obstruct airflow. As a result, individuals with COPD experience persistent coughing, shortness of breath, and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.

Asthma

While asthma is a complex condition with multiple triggers, smoking can significantly worsen symptoms and increase the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. 

Secondhand smoke, in particular, can be highly detrimental to individuals with asthma, causing increased inflammation and irritation of the airways. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to develop asthma in the first place. 

Reducing or quitting smoking can decrease your risk of adult-onset asthma. And if you smoke at home, quitting can also improve the health of the people you live with.

Diabetes

Smoking raises the risk of type 2 diabetes by promoting insulin resistance and damaging insulin-producing cells. It worsens complications – such as diabetic nephropathy and retinopath – and increases the likelihood of cardiovascular diseases.

Moreover, managing diabetes becomes more challenging for smoker since nicotine raises blood sugar levels and reduces insulin sensitivity. On the other hand, quitting smoking can reduce complications, improve blood sugar levels, and lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Quitting also enhances the effectiveness of diabetes medications and promotes faster wound healing, crucial for individuals prone to slow-healing wounds. That said, quitting can greatly enhance a person’s quality of life and drastically improve diabetes symptoms.

Takeaway

Smoking can significantly impact chronic diseases, causing widespread damage to various organs and systems within the body. From lung cancer to cardiovascular diseases, the association between smoking and chronic illnesses is irrefutable. 

Quitting smoking is the most effective way to minimize the risk of developing these diseases and improve overall health. 

If you or someone you know is a smoker, it is crucial to seek support and resources to quit this harmful habit. Remember, it’s never too late to quit, and the benefits to your health are immense.

Sources

FAQs About Tobacco and Disease Caused by Smoking

What are the major diseases caused by smoking?
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The primary diseases caused by smoking include lung cancer, other types of cancer (such as those of the mouth, throat, esophagus, pancreas, bladder, kidney, cervix, and stomach), cardiovascular diseases like strokes, heart attacks, and peripheral artery disease, respiratory conditions like COPD, emphysema, tuberculosis, adult-onset asthma, and pulmonary fibrosis, and type 2 diabetes.

How does smoking contribute to the development of lung cancer?
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Smoking introduces chemicals and carcinogens that can damage the lungs and trigger cellular mutations, potentially leading to cancerous tumors. These damaging substances include lead, arsenic, benzene, ammonia, formaldehyde, carbon monoxide, and others. While nicotine doesn't directly cause cancer, it's addictive and thus drives continued smoking, indirectly contributing to cancer risk.

Can quitting smoking reduce the risk of developing these diseases?
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Yes, quitting smoking can significantly reduce the risk of developing smoking-related diseases. For example, a person who quits smoking for 10 years is half as likely to develop lung cancer as someone who smokes. Quitting also dramatically lessens the risk of cardiovascular diseases, improves lung function, and can enhance diabetes management.

What is the impact of smoking on cardiovascular health?
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Smoking significantly affects cardiovascular health. Chemicals in cigarette smoke, particularly nicotine and carbon monoxide, contribute to the narrowing and hardening of blood vessels, leading to reduced blood flow and an increased risk of blood clots. Over time, these factors can lead to strokes, heart attacks, peripheral artery disease, and other serious cardiovascular complications.

How does smoking affect respiratory health and COPD and asthma?
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Smoking leads to chronic inflammation that scars the tissue lining the lungs, increasing the risk of severe respiratory conditions like pneumonia, emphysema, tuberculosis, chronic bronchitis, pulmonary fibrosis, adult-onset asthma, and COPD. Smoking can worsen asthma symptoms and increase the frequency and severity of asthma attacks. In the case of COPD, smoking irritates and inflames the airways, causing them to narrow, which results in persistent coughing, shortness of breath, and increased susceptibility to respiratory infections.

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A tobacco cessation program can help

A tobacco cessation program like Pivot Breathe can help individuals quit tobacco - and improve their health.

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