The World Health Organisation confirms that tobacco smoking kills about 5.4 million people globally each year, which means there are no good side effects to smoking. Despite this, 20% of South Africans are believed to be smokers. Discover more about the harmful effects of tobacco smoking with Bloom and trusted medical health partner, Momentum Health4Me, as the question is raised: is smoking really bad for your health?
Smoking effects on the body
Tobacco smoking is very harmful to your body and can cause several health problems. If you smoke, you are inhaling chemical substances into your lungs and body tissue. Over time, this leads to irreversible damage. Take a look at some of the ways smoking is harmful.
1. The respiratory system
It’s a well-known fact that smoking has been linked to lung disease as it damages the airways and the alveoli (air sacs). Types of lung disease caused by smoking include:
- Lung cancer, which begins in the bronchi and alveoli of the lungs and can spread to the lymph nodes and other organs of the body. Lung cancer is characterised by repeated respiratory infections, shortness of breath, chest pain and a persistent cough.
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is a chronic inflammatory disease that obstructs one’s airflow causing difficulty in breathing, a persistent cough and mucus.
- Emphysema, which causes severe shortness of breath because the alveoli are damaged from smoking, resulting in the air sacs rupturing.
- Chronic bronchitis, which includes persistent coughing, wheezing and mucus production. This incurable condition causes permanent inflammation that affects the lining of one’s breathing tubes.
- Asthma, although not caused by smoking, the condition can become more severe through smoking.
2. Cardiovascular problems
The Heart & Stroke Foundation of South Africa confirms that smoking is the second highest cause of cardiovascular disease. Studies have found that smokers are at a higher risk of having a heart attack or coronary heart disease than non-smokers. Smoking affects the entire cardiovascular system as the nicotine found in cigarettes causes blood vessels to tighten, restricting blood flow. Over time, the narrowing of the blood vessels can cause peripheral artery disease. Smoking is also linked to high blood pressure (hypertension) and increases one’s risk of developing a blood clot. A combination of these can cause a stroke.
3. Hair, skin and nail deterioation
The quality of one’s skin is affected by smoking as it changes the structure, causing premature ageing. Repeated, long-term nicotine use causes blood vessels to narrow, which reduces oxygen flow and vital nutrients to the skin cells. Other chemicals that are found in tobacco smoking, cause molecular events that damage the skin’s elasticity and overall health. It also increases the risk of skin cancer. Fingernails and toenails can be affected by fungal nail infections, and frequent nicotine use, over time, can cause hair loss.
4. Reproductive system and libido problems
Smoking can affect both men’s and women’s reproductive systems. Women can suffer from fertility problems, making it difficult to conceive; and men can suffer from a low sperm count. Continued nicotine use affects blood flow to the genital areas, which can inhibit sexual performance. Women can suffer from decreased lubrication while men can develop erectile dysfunction.
Smoking can also affect a baby’s health before and after birth, some of the risks include:
- Low birth weight
- Premature delivery, which can include health risks like developmental delays
- Placenta abruption, where the placenta separates from the uterus before birth
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Cleft palate in babies
5. Digestive system conditions
Smoking contributes to a number of painful digestive conditions. Studies have linked long-term smoking with chronic heartburn and gastroesophageal reflux. It also increases one’s risk of developing peptic ulcers, Crohn’s Disease, gallstones or pancreatitis.
6. Bone health
Smoking reduces blood supply to one’s bone and body tissue. Continued nicotine use will reduce the production of bone-producing cells as well as the absorption of calcium, which is an essential nutrient required for good bone health and cellular functions. As a result, smoking can increase one’s risk of developing bone-related complications and diseases, like osteoarthritis, herniated discs or osteoporosis.
8. Cancer risks
In addition to lung cancer, there are several other types of cancers that are linked to smoking. These include:
- Larynx and oesophagal cancer
- Colorectal cancer
- Bladder cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Liver cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Stomach cancer
9. Vision problems
Smoking can even affect your vision because smoking inhibits blood flow to the eyes. It accelerates age-related macular degeneration, which will have a negative impact on the quality of one’s central vision. It’s also linked to the development of cataracts, glaucoma, Dry Eye Syndrome and diabetic retinopathy.
10. Other health-related risks
Smoking can increase one’s risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus by 30-40%. It also makes managing the disease very difficult to control.
Smoking creates a response in the body to vascular injury, which is associated with increased levels of inflammation, and decreased immune function.
Rheumatoid arthritis is a painful and chronic autoimmune and inflammatory disease. Smokers have an increased risk of developing this condition because they have higher levels of inflammatory protein, or cytokines, which cause joint and organ damage associated with this condition.
What is secondhand smoke and is it harmful?
Secondhand smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. It is the combination of burning nicotine cigarettes and the smoke that is breathed out by a smoker. Secondhand smoke has been linked to several types of health problems, including respiratory infections, coronary heart disease, and lunger cancer. Children are particularly vulnerable to the damaging health effects caused by secondhand smokers, often their parents, and could develop any one of these diseases or conditions:
- Repeated bronchitis and/or pneumonia
- Persistent wheezing and coughing
- Asthma attacks
- Ear infections
Stay healthy with affordable health insurance cover
Is smoking really bad for your health? Given the evidence, it’s quite obvious that smoking tobacco can cause a lot of health issues and problems. If you do smoke, then it’s advisable to quit as soon as possible. Take a look at our article Understand The Harmful Effects of Smoking, to find out how you can quit, along with free resources to assist you in your recovery journey.
A healthy lifestyle starts with the right decisions
If you do smoke tobacco, there’s always the choice you can make to quit. Commit to healthy living and good health with a health insurance plan. Contact our offices to speak to a trained consultant about getting a free health insurance quote, or you can explore the health plan options. There are a number of different plans from which to choose, like Momentum Health4Me Bronze, Silver and Gold plans.
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