13 ways smoking affects the body

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Smoking cigarettes can have many adverse effects on the body. Some of these can lead to life threatening complications. Smoking increases a person’s risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and more.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)Trusted Source, cigarette smoking harms almost all organs in the body and causes many diseases. It reduces the health of smokers in general.
Smoking cigarettes affects the respiratory system, the circulatory system, the reproductive system, the skin, and the eyes, and it increases the risk of many cancers.
This article looks at 13 possible effects of smoking cigarettes.
Lung damage
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Smoking cigarettes damages the lungs because a person inhales nicotine, among other chemicals.
Cigarettes are responsible for a substantial increase in the risk of developing lung cancer. This risk is 25 times greaterTrusted Source for men and 25.7 times for women.
The CDC reports that roughly 9 out of 10Trusted Source lung cancer deaths are linked to smoking.
Smoking cigarettes also presents a greater risk of developing and dying from chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD). The American Lung Association report that smoking causes 80% of COPD deaths.
Cigarettes also relate to developing emphysema and chronic bronchitis. They can also trigger or exacerbate an asthma attack.
Heart disease
Smoking cigarettes can damage the heart, blood vessels, and blood cells.
The chemicals and tar in cigarettes can increase a person’s risk of atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of plaque in the blood vessels. This buildup limits blood flow and can lead to dangerous blockages.
Smoking also increases the risk of peripheral artery disease (PAD), which occurs when the arteries to the arms and legs start to narrow, restricting blood flow.
ResearchTrusted Source shows a direct link between smoking and developing PAD — even those who used to smoke face a higher risk than people who never smoked.
Having PAD increases the risk of:
• blood clots
• angina, or chest pain
• stroke
• heart attack
Fertility problems
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Smoking cigarettes can damage a female’s reproductive system and make it more difficultTrusted Source to get pregnant. This may be because tobacco and the other chemicals in cigarettes affect hormone levels.
In males, the risk of erectile dysfunction increases the more they smoke and the length of time they smoke for. Smoking can also affect the quality of the sperm and therefore reduce fertility.
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Risk of pregnancy complications
According to the CDCTrusted Source, smoking can affect pregnancy and the developing fetus in several ways, including:
• increasing the risk of ectopic pregnancy
• reducing the baby’s birth weight
• increasing the risk of preterm delivery
• damaging the fetus’s lungs, brain, and central nervous system
• increasing the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
• contributing to congenital abnormalities, such as cleft lip and cleft palate
Risk of type 2 diabetes
The CDC report that people who smoke regularly have a 30–40%Trusted Source higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those who do not.
Smoking can also make it more difficult for people with diabetes to manage their condition.
Weakened immune system
Smoking cigarettes can weakenTrusted Source a person’s immune system, making them more susceptible to illness.
It can also cause additional inflammation in the body.
Vision problems
Smoking cigarettes can cause eye problems, including a greater riskTrusted Source of cataracts and macular degeneration.
Other vision problems related to smoking include:
• dry eyes
• glaucoma
• diabetic retinopathy
Poor oral hygiene
People who smoke have double the riskTrusted Source of gum disease. This risk increases with the number of cigarettes a person smokes.
Symptoms of gum disease include:
• swollen and tender gums
• bleeding when brushing
• loose teeth
• sensitive teeth
Smoking tobacco can limit a person’s ability to taste and smell things properly. It can also stain the teeth yellow or brown.
Integumentary system
The integumentary system consists of a person’s skin, hair, and nails.
Smoking tobacco can affect a person’s skin and hair. A person who smokes may experience prematurely aged, wrinkled skin. According to the American Osteopathic College of Dermatology, some of the long-term effects of smoking include:
• baggy eyes
• deeper facial wrinkles
• dry skin
• furrows
• saggy jawline
• uneven skin pigmentation
People who smoke also have a higher riskTrusted Source of skin cancer, particularly on the lips.
Smoking can cause the hair and skin to smell like tobacco. It can contribute to hair loss and balding. It can also cause discoloration of the nails, causing them to become yellowed or brown.
Risk of other cancers
In addition to the well-documented link with lung cancer, smoking cigarettes contributes to other cancers.
The American Cancer Society report that cigarette smoking causes 20–30%Trusted Source of pancreatic cancers.
People who smoke are also three times as likelyTrusted Source to develop bladder cancer than people who do not.
Smoking cigarettes can also double a person’s riskTrusted Source of stomach cancer. Research links tobacco to cancer in the upper part of the stomach, near the esophagus. This is known as esophageal cancer.
Cigarettes can also increase the risk of:
• mouth cancer
• laryngeal cancer
• throat cancer
• kidney cancer
• cervical cancer
• liver cancer
• colon cancer
• acute myeloid leukemia
Digestive system
Cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for a person developing intestinal disorders.
Smokers are more likelyTrusted Source to develop gastritis — inflammation in the stomach lining — than non-smokers, which can lead to ulcers in their stomachs or intestines.
Smoking may also cause delayed emptying of the stomach and slowed peristalsis.
Central nervous system
The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord, which control all physical and mental activities.
A smoker’s central nervous system becomes damaged because nicotine causes an increase in blood pressure and heart rate, which causes these organs to weaken over time.
According to a 2021 studyTrusted Source, smoking tobacco and nicotine seriously impacts neurological health.
The study reports that smoking is a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
Secondhand smoke
The ill effects of smoking cigarettes do not only affect people who smoke.
Secondhand smoke can also significantly affect family members, friends, children, and coworkers.
Secondhand smoke causes lung cancer. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS)Trusted Source, evidence has also linked secondhand smoke to other cancers, including throat and breast cancer.
Children whose parents smoke get sick more often, have more lung infections and are more likely to have shortness of breath.
If a fetus or baby is exposed to secondhand smoke, they may be at risk of childhood cancers such as:
• leukemia
• brain tumors
• lymphoma
Quitting smoking
While quitting smoking can be challenging, the CDCTrusted Source reports that today, more people used to smoke than people who currently smoke.
Once a person stops smoking, the benefits start accumulating. These include clearer skin, improved oral health, more stable hormones, a stronger immune system, and a reduced risk of many types of cancers.
Some other benefits of quitting smoking include:
• After 20 minutes–12 hours: Heart rate and carbon monoxide in the blood drop to normal levels.
• After 1 year: The risk of a heart attack is much lower, as is blood pressure. Coughing and upper respiratory problems begin to improve.
• After 2–5 years: The risk of stroke drops to that of someone who does not smoke, according to the CDCTrusted Source.
• After 5–15 years: The risk of mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder cancer is reduced by half.
• After 10 years: The risk of lung and bladder cancer is half that of someone who currently smokes.
• After 15 years: The risk of heart disease is similar to that of someone who never smoked.
Nicotine is an addictive drug and can cause withdrawal symptoms when a person stops using it. These symptoms include cravings, increased appetite, and irritability. Cravings and other effects typically subside over time.
A doctor or other healthcare professional can help a person take positive steps toward quitting smoking.
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