There are over 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, many of which are poisonous, and 43 which have been proven to be carcinogenic (causing cancer). These chemicals include:
- Nicotine: Nicotine is the drug in tobacco smoke that causes addiction among smokers. The strength of addiction is said to be as powerful or more so than that of heroin. Nicotine is a poison. Swallowing one drop of pure nicotine can kill an adult.
- Tar: When a cigarette burns, tar is released. Tar is the main cause of lung and throat cancer in smokers.
- Carbon Monoxide: Carbon monoxide is a colourless odourless and very toxic gas, which is taken up more readily by the lungs than oxygen. High levels of carbon monoxide in the blood is typical of smokers and, together with nicotine, increases the risk of heart disease, hardening of the arteries and other circulatory problems.
The effects of smoking will vary from person to person and depend on such things as:
- a person’s susceptibility to chemicals in tobacco smoke;
- the number of cigarettes smoked per day;
- the age when the person began smoking; and
- the number of years of smoking.
- smoking one cigarette immediately raises a person’s blood pressure and heart rate and decreases the blood flow to body extremities like the fingers and toes;
- brain and the nervous system activity is stimulated for a short time and then reduced;
- a smoker may also experience dizziness, nausea, watery eyes and acid in the stomach; and
- appetite, taste and smell are weakened.
Other effects of cigarette smoking
- smokers typically experience shortness of breath, persistent coughs, reduced fitness, yellow stains on fingers and teeth and decreased sense of taste and smell;
- smokers have more colds and flu than non-smokers and find it harder to recover from minor illnesses;
- smoking can cause impotence in men, while women who smoke are less fertile than non-smokers;
- people who smoke tend to have facial wrinkles appearing much earlier and, in general, look older than non-smokers of the same age.
Smokers have an increased risk of developing:
- respiratory infections such as pneumonia and chronic bronchitis;
- emphysema â€“ a progressive and potentially fatal lung disease;
- heart attack and coronary disease;
- cancer of the lung, throat, mouth, bladder, kidney, pancreas, cervix, stomach;
- stomach ulcers; and
- peripheral vascular disease due to decreased blood flow to the legs.
A person who is dependent on cigarettes may find that they experience withdrawal symptoms when they cut down or stop smoking cigarettes. These can include â€“ increased nervousness and tension, agitation, loss of concentration, changes to sleep patterns, headaches, coughs and cravings.
Other dangers and important facts
- smoking during pregnancy can affect the unborn child and babies are more likely to be born underweight, premature or stillborn;
- passive smoking, where a person is subject to breathing in the cigarette smoke of others, can cause lung damage, including cancer and heart disease;
- fifty Australians die every day from smoking compared to ten who die from alcohol-related conditions or four who die from road accidents.
Benefits of quitting
The good news is that there are immediate benefits from stopping smoking at any age. For example, within a week, nicotine and carbon monoxide will be out of the system and the lungs will be working more efficiently.
- Taste buds will come alive and sense of smell improves.
- Breath, hair, fingers, teeth and clothes will look and smell cleaner
- Within three months, blood flow to the hands and feet improves
- After twelve months the risk of cancer and heart disease is reduced.
There is a lot of support and information available to help people stop smoking. QUIT has free self-help materials, including books, videos, courses and a telephone counselling service.