Cigarette Smoking Facts
Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable deaths in the modern world. In America alone, it is the cause of 440,000 deaths per year. Every day, 3,000 people have their first cigarette; most of them are 16 and under. Eighty percent of those who die of lung cancer had smoked in their lifetime. Thirty percent of people who die of any type of cancer had also smoked sometime in their lifetime. What makes cigarettes so deadly?
Do You Smoke?
Do You Smoke
Chemicals in Cigarettes
There are 4,800 chemicals in cigarettes, 69 of which are known to cause cancer. You can find everything from ammonia to arsenic in one cigarette. We are often exposed to some of these chemicals, regardless of our exposure to these smokey treats, but chemicals like benzene that causes leukemia are rarely encountered except through cigarette smoke. Although 69 of the chemicals in cigarettes can cause cancer, there are 4,731 that do not but are still very harmful.
Here are three of the more well known non-carcinogenic chemicals:
Carbon Monoxide (CO): Carbon monoxide is a poisonous, colorless, odorless gas, and yes it is produced when you smoke. This not only can cause cancer, but CO actually binds with your hemoglobin, which will then turn into COHb. COHb causes your hemoglobin to not be able to absorb oxygen, which limits the oxygen to your brain and other tissues. By limiting oxygen to your tissues it causes them to repair more slowly and become less capable of fighting off disease and illness. If you question whether this really effects us, it is most likely CO that causes premature aging in smokers.
Hydrogen Cyanide: Hydrogen cyanide is infamously used in Zyklon B, a well-known substance used for mass genocide during World War II. Fortunately, most non-smokers are rarely exposed to this chemical. Those who smoke are continually ingesting this deadly poison, which in larger amounts can cause instant death.
Nicotine: Nicotine probably has the worst rap, since it is addictive, but it is actually not a carcinogen! That does not mean it is harmless. It is toxic. Older people are unlikely to get nicotine poisoning, but if a young child were to accidentally chew on a piece of nicotine gum, they could end up being rushed to the hospital with a very severe case of poisoning that could take their life.
Cancer Causing Agents in Cigarettes
There are 69 carcinogens in a cigarette, which means for every time you inhale that smokey treat you are also inhaling 69 chemicals that could cause cancer. There are several more chemicals in cigarettes that are probable carcinogens.
Here are just four of the more well-known carcinogens found in cigarettes:
Arsenic: Arsenic is known to cause lung, skin, bladder, liver, and kidney cancer. We actually get this in the meat we eat as well, but those who smoke have a much higher level of arsenic in their bloodstream than their non-smoking carnivorous counterparts, which makes them more likely to develop these cancers.
Benzene: Benzene is known for causing leukemia. Unlike arsenic, majority of our exposure to this chemical is only in cigarette smoke. We do not have very many natural places where we come in contact with benzene. There is also a fair percentage of leukemia patients who are believed to be in part due to their smoking habit.
Cadmium: Cadmium, which is primarily used in batteries, is a probable carcinogen. Still even in small doses it is toxic to our bodies. Trace amounts of cadmium are often found in all people, because we pick it up from plants that are grown in the ground. What is alarming is that those who smoke have twice as much in their body than a non-smoker.
Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde does not affect all people the same. Some can be exposed to it heavily and be unaffected, while others can develop asthma as a result of exposure. It has recently been deemed a carcinogen, as well. This may be the substance most responsible for causing asthma in second-hand smokers.
Most of us know that cigarette smoking can cause lung cancer. If you have ever been unfortunate enough to watch someone die of this cancer, you know how awful it is. They usually die fairly young, like Humphrey Bogart who died of lung cancer at age 57. But lung cancer is just one of the awful diseases that cigarette smoking can cause. When the nicotine is inhaled, it and all the other chemicals go through your blood stream, which affects every living cell in your body.
Fortunately, our bodies are pretty resilient, and one day of smoking is unlikely to cause cancer to develop. For every year you are exposed to these toxins, your chance of developing cancer increases. All it takes is the DNA in one cell of your body to become mutated by the carcinogens for cancer to develop.
How a carcinogen works is it takes the DNA from a cell and mutates it. Usually a mutated cell will die and not reproduce due to a checkpoint that detects mutations and the cell will not multiply as most cells do. Unfortunately, it only takes one time for the checkpoint to fail for cancer to develop. This could happen at any cell that is exposed to the carcinogen. Since all cells are fed by our bloodstream, and all our blood flow is affected by what we breathe in, anytime we breathe in the carcinogens from cigarettes, a mutated cell could result.
Cancer is not the only possible harmful effect from cigarettes. A higher rate of these diseases has also been attributed to smoking:
- heart disease (heart attacks or high blood pressure)
- increased risk for thyroid disease, as well as problems within thyroid disease (hypothyroidism, Grave's Disease)
- premature aging (wrinkles)
- poor circulation
- asthma (especially those who were exposed to second hand smoke in their youth)
- diabetes Type II
- eye disease (macular degeneration and cataracts)
chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (Emphysema and chronic asthmatic bronchitis)
Second Hand Smoking Facts
3,000 people who are nonsmokers die of smoking related deaths each year. It may not sound like very many compared to the 440,000 smokers that die annually, but these deaths could have been prevented.
Those most affected by second-hand smoke are those under the age of 18 months. There are more than 150,000 respiratory infections each year of children in this age range that were caused by living in a home where second-hand smoke was present. Some reports estimate that 300,000 young children's upper respiratory infections within this age range were due to second-hand smoke. Of these 7,000 will end up in the hospital.
Twenty percent of children who have asthma actually have more severe asthma attacks due to second-hand smoke. Even adults with asthma are more apt to flare if they are subjected to second-hand smoke.
Lung Cancer PhotosClick thumbnail to view full-size
Quotes About Smoking
Even John Quincy Adams, back in the 1700s, knew smoking was bad for you. After his three-month-long struggle to quit smoking, he was quoted saying:
I have often wished that every individual afflicted with this artificial passion could force it upon himself to try but for three months the experiment which I made, sure that it would turn every acre of tobacco land into a wheat field, and add five years to the average of human life'
You don't have to be an ex-smoker to know it's bad for you. Many tobacco companies have also been noted discussing the harmful effects of smoking. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco company was quoted saying:
The amount of evidence accumulated to indict [accuse] cigarette smoke as a health hazard is overwhelming. The evidence challenging such an indictment is scant (quoted in 1962).
This is the same company that chose to use a cartooned camel as their slogan, because they knew that "...comic strip type copy might get a much higher readership among younger people than any other type of copy,” (quoted in 1973) and chose to do this because, "This young adult market, the 14 to 24 age group...represent(s) tomorrow's cigarette business.” (quoted in 1974) In case you question whether they changed their stance on the harmful effects of cigarette smoking, they stated this in 1986:
It seems unlikely that we will be able to locate a toxicologist [ a scientist who studies poisons] who will give a 'clean' opinion to tobacco, even if (s)he agrees that ingredients pose no risk. The mot realistic hope is that we can get an opinion that tobacco is a 'risk factor
If tobacco companies know the health risks, we know the health risks, why do we continue smoking? I hope not to see another family member die of lung cancer, let alone the thousands of other ways a person dies from cigarette smoke.
- Terry Martin | Reviewed by a board-certified physician. "Nicotine Use." Verywell Mind. Accessed February 26, 2018. http://quitsmoking.about.com/.
- "Welcome to Smoking-Facts.net." 101 Smoking Facts - The Facts About Smoking. Accessed February 26, 2018. http://www.smoking-facts.net/.
Questions & Answers
What causes emphysema?
First of all, I am not a doctor, nor do I work in the medical field, but I can tell you what WebMD says. It says that emphysema occurs when the lungs are damaged, specifically the air sac lining. The number one cause of this is smoking, although WebMD does state that they do not know why these are so interlinked. The site also states that people born with an AAT deficiency are more apt to get this disease, because AAT, or Alpha-1 antitrypsin, is a protein that circulates in the blood and it keeps white blood cells from damaging normal cells. Some people do not produce enough of this, leading to emphysema as well as liver problems, because it does not protect these organs as it should.
Although AAT deficiency and smoking are the primary causes, scientists believe that second-hand smoke and air pollution may also be damaging the lining of the air sacs and causing emphysema.
© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz