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Smoking: How To Stop

How Smoking Affects The Body

Last modified: 
24/04/2012 - 15:22

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Smoking causes many premature deaths from diseases that are largely incurable, but preventable by stopping smoking. There are three main killing diseases which smoking causes or brings on earlier:

  • Heart disease. Smoking is responsible for 30 percent of all heart attacks and cardiovascular deaths.
  • Cancer. It is responsible for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 87 percent of lung cancer deaths each year.
  • Lung problems. Smoking is responsible for 82 percent of deaths due to emphysema and chronic bronchitis.

Smoking also exacerbates diseases and conditions that are not always fatal, but cause suffering or are sources of personal concern.

  • Smoking delays healing of peptic ulcers of the stomach and duodenum, many of which would heal spontaneously in non-smokers.
  • Its effects on blood vessels cause chronic pains in the legs (claudication) which can progress to gangrene and amputations of the toes or feet.
  • An effect on elastic tissue causes wrinkling of the skin of the face to develop earlier in chronic smokers. On average they look 5 years older than non-smokers of the same age do.
  • Smoking also brings on an earlier menopause in women, advancing it by an average of 5 years.
  • It reduces women's fertility and delays conception after they stop using oral contraceptives.
  • It impairs erections in middle-aged and older men and may affect the quality of their sperm. It seems to "sedate" sperm and to impair their motility. This is reversed after stopping smoking.
  • Smoking accelerates the rate of osteoporosis, a disease which causes bones to weaken and fracture more easily.
  • Women who smoke during pregnancy damage their unborn child, causing effects that last throughout the child's life. The risks of miscarriage, premature birth, and death of the baby in its first year of life are all significantly increased.

Need To Know:

Smoking During Pregnancy

In addition to the risk of miscarriage, premature birth, and death of the baby in its first year of life, a woman's smoking during pregnancy also has other effects on the baby:

  • The growth and development of all unborn babies is impaired if their mothers smoke. On average, birth weight is reduced by about half a pound. This makes little difference to a baby of normal weight, but could be crucial to ones weighing 3 to 4 pounds.
  • The development of the brain is also affected. Children whose mothers smoked during pregnancy are on average about one year behind non-exposed children in reading and numerical ability, for example. Loss of a few IQ points may be hardly noticeable to a normally intelligent child or adult, but may be critical for someone on the borderline.
  • The child will be more likely to have behavioral problems and hyperactivity.
  • Finally, during the first few years of life, children are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of passive smoking if their parents smoke. These effects include worsening of asthma, increased frequency of colds and ear infections, and increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome.
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Smoking: How To Stop

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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.