While you may believe that cigarettes are harmless as compared to binging on alcohol or using mind-altering substances, the substances in cigarettes are drastically harmful. The effects of smoking can be divided into short-term and long-term, as well as physical effects on the brain and psychological addiction.
When you compare nicotine, one of the substances in a cigarette, to cocaine or heroin, it is at least as addictive as these mind-altering drugs. This is why it’s so hard for smokers to quit smoking long-term—those side effects of smoking lead directly to the symptoms you feel when you quit.
Effects on the Brain *
Cigarettes, pipe tobacco , chewing tobacco, cigars and snuff all contain nicotine, which is actually an addictive drug. Smoking nicotine is probably the most effective method of delivering nicotine into your body—and brain. It’s easily absorbed into your bloodstream, which sends it straight to your brain.
Depending on how many packs you smoke daily, you can easily achieve a minimum of 250 hits of nicotine to your brain in one day. If you’re already a long-term smoker, your brain has already changed, resulting in physical and psychological addiction to any product containing nicotine. What’s worse, some compounds added to cigarettes may cause nicotine to have even stronger effects on your brain.
Other Organs *
Possibly the biggest of the effects of smoking is cancer. About 90 percent of all cases of lung cancer can be attributed to smoking. Oral cancers have been linked to smokeless tobacco, such as snuff and chewing tobacco. Lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis have also been linked to smoking.
Smoking can also lead to vascular disease, aneurysms, strokes and heart attacks. It leads to a build-up of LDL, or bad cholesterol. Going further, pneumonia, cataracts and leukemia have been linked to long-term smoking.
A cigarette doesn’t just contain nicotine. It also contains acetaldehyde, which can make the effects of nicotine even stronger. Other ingredients in one cigarette include tar, carbon monoxide, cyanide, formaldehyde and ammonia. Several of these chemicals are known to cause cancer. Tar has been linked to bronchial illnesses, lung cancer and emphysema in long-term smokers.
Pregnant women who smoke are putting the health and lives of their unborn children at risk. Smoking effects put women at a higher risk of miscarriage, premature birth or stillbirths. Mothers who continue smoking throughout their pregnancies can have low-birth weight infants; these children may also develop learning and behavioral problems. Even more, if the mother smokes more than one pack a day, her child faces double the risk of becoming addicted to tobacco and nicotine if they begin to smoke.
Highly Addictive *
As nicotine gets into your bloodstream, it heads straight for your adrenal glands, which respond by releasing epinephrine or adrenaline. This speeds up your central nervous system, which pushes up your heart rate, blood pressure and respiration.
The nicotine that’s now in your bloodstream hasn’t yet finished its job. As it reaches your brain, it causes your brain to secrete more dopamine. This neurotransmitter controls the neural pathways in your brain—meaning that, when you smoke, you get a deceptive sense of well-being. And, as you continue to smoke, your brain requires more and more nicotine to get the same effect. This is one hallmark of addiction.
Beginning within seconds of inhaling cigarette smoke, nicotine arrives in your brain. After releasing adrenaline, you feel a pleasurable buzz and increased energy. This burst of energy and the buzz subside quickly and you feel tired again. You may also feel emotionally “down,” wanting to feel that buzz. This is what leads you to smoke another cigarette. Over time, you build up a tolerance to nicotine and you’ll find yourself going through more and more cigarettes as you seek that feeling of energy and pleasure. You’re becoming addicted. Even though you may know you should quit smoking, you can’t.
If you’re wondering about smokeless tobacco, it’s just as addictive. If you keep a dip of tobacco in your mouth for 30 minutes, that’s the equivalent of smoking three cigarettes.
Side Effects of Quitting Smoking *
People who try to quit smoking may quit repeatedly before they are finally successful. The side effects of quitting are so painful that many give up and resume smoking again, even though they may know they’re putting their lives at risk. These effects include:
- Increased hunger
- Strong cravings for nicotine
These are only the withdrawal symptoms and should last no more than one week. As you go about your daily routine, some of your activities which were associated with smoking may cause those cravings to hit—driving, enjoying an after-dinner drink or even the post-dinner time period may remind you that you used to smoke at these times.
Short-Term Effects *
The side effects of smoking can be divided into short-term and long-term. For the short-term, these may include:
- Peptic ulcers
- Irritable airways
- Interactions with various drugs
- More phlegm
- Oxidative damage to your body
- Coughing even when you’re not ill
- Micronutrient disorders, such as scurvy
- Inability to reach your previous peak physical performance
- Increase in bad cholesterol
- Increased artery wall plaque
- Blood clots
- Mid-ear inflammation
- Blood vessel constriction
- Bad breath (smoker’s breath)
- Fast heart rate
- Periodontal disease
- Higher blood pressure
- Reflux disease and heartburn
All of these are uncomfortable and some are significant illnesses that can keep you out of work and away from enjoyable activities. If you enjoyed running, you won’t be able to run as fast or as far. Some of these conditions can lead to even more illnesses, which will actually put your life at risk. If you’ve tried to quit smoking before, but decided to start smoking again, you may already be aware of the effects of smoking on your health. If the effects of quitting smoking caused you to resume smoking, you may need outside assistance to ensure you succeed the next time you decide to quit.
Long-Term Effects *
Long-term effects of smoking cigarettes can put your life, and the life of your children at risk. Some, such as an earlier menopause, can lead to subsequent conditions such as osteoporosis. The long-term effects can include:
- Increased levels of stress
- Earlier menopause
- More headaches
- Higher risk of premature birth or stillbirth
- Higher risk of catching colds and flu
- Higher chance of giving birth to a low-birthweight baby
- Children of smokers are more likely to develop conduct disorder
- Slowed healing process
- Higher risk that your children will begin smoking and smoke long-term
- Lowered physical performance
- Gum disease
- Vision issues or blindness
- Early hair loss
- Drier skin, crow’s feet and more wrinkles
This list doesn’t include the development of chronic bronchitis, emphysema, oral or lung cancer. Instead, it shows that some health conditions you’re at risk of developing can seriously affect the quality of your life. Looking at all the systems in your body that can be affected by smoking and the ingredients in cigarettes shows that smoking is a potentially deadly habit.
How Smoking Nicotine Creates Addiction *
When you first smoke a cigarette or place a plug of smokeless tobacco in your mouth, it’s absorbed through your skin and through the mucosal lining inside your mouth and nose. Nicotine in cigarette smoke is absorbed into your lungs.
How fast does nicotine reach your brain when you smoke? In less than 10 seconds. Because pipe and cigar smokers don’t inhale, the nicotine in those products is slower to reach the brain—but it still gets there. After you get that buzz and burst of energy, that will fade within a short period of time, so your body will need another cigarette so you get that feeling again.
Researchers are speculating that a substance other than nicotine is responsible for a drop in the levels of monoamineoxidase or MAO. This enzyme helps to break down the dopamine in your brain. Without MAO in your brain, you have higher levels of dopamine, which causes you to feel good. Because your brain wants to sustain that higher dopamine level, you begin smoking more and more frequently.
Nicotine is both a sedative and stimulant. As it hits your brain, you get a burst of energy, leading to higher respiration, heart rate and blood pressure. Your pancreas secretes less insulin, leading to higher levels of sugar in your bloodstream. The sedative effect results in a lower arousal of your central nervous system.
Because your body metabolizes nicotine so fast, you’ll need another dose of it before long. Think about the effect of the first cigarette of the day. It’s usually stronger then, as you smoke more cigarettes throughout the day, that stronger effect disappears. This shows how your body has accommodated to nicotine and other substances, requiring you to smoke more and more cigarettes during the day.
You’ve probably experienced the negative symptoms of quitting smoking—this is now called “nicotine withdrawal syndrome,” which includes those powerful cravings you experience. That craving is actually a psychological and physical need for nicotine and can last for several months.
Every time you smoke a cigarette, you have several sensory experiences, which include the smell, feel and even the sight of that cigarette. Over the years, you developed ritual of releasing a cigarette from its pack, lighting it up and handling it as you smoked. All of these are powerful, leading to that craving for smoking. Even aids that alleviate the physical symptoms of withdrawal won’t have an effect on those psychological cravings.
A cigarette is probably the most perfect delivery system for nicotine. Knowing this you need to have as many support systems in place as you work to quit smoking.