Tobacco smoking is one of the largest preventable causes of death and disease in Australia with smoking estimated to kill almost 19,000 Australians a year and responsible for 9.0% of the total burden of disease in Australia in 2011. It is associated with an increased risk of a wide range of health conditions, including; heart disease, diabetes, stroke, cancer, renal disease, eye disease and respiratory conditions such as asthma, emphysema and bronchitis.
Nicotine is the main chemical in tobacco. It is:
- highly addictive
- a stimulant — this means it speeds up the messages that travel between your brain and your body
Tobacco smoke contains many chemicals that are harmful to smokers and non-smokers. Breathing even small amounts of tobacco smoke can be harmful.
Of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful, including hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia.
Among the 250 known harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 69 can cause cancer.
Within 10 seconds of your first puff, the toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke reach your brain, heart and other organs. Smoking harms almost every part of your body and increases your risk of many diseases.
HOW TOBACCO DAMAGES YOUR BODY
The chemicals in tobacco smoke can damage your body in many ways. For example:
- Nicotine narrows your veins and arteries. This can damage your heart by forcing it to work faster and harder slow your blood and reduce oxygen to your feet and hands.
- Carbon monoxide deprives your heart of the oxygen it needs to pump blood around your body. Over time, your airways swell up and let less air into your lungs.
- Tar is a sticky substance that coats your lungs like soot in a chimney.
- Phenols paralyse and kill the hair-like cells in your airways. These cells sweep clean the lining of your airways and protect them against infections.
- Tiny particles in tobacco smoke irritate your throat and lungs and cause ‘smoker’s cough’. This makes you produce more mucus and damages lung tissue.
- Ammonia and formaldehyde irritate your eyes, nose and throat.
- Cancer-causing chemicals make your cells grow too fast or abnormally. This can result in cancer cells.
HOW TOBACCO AFFECTS THE WAY YOU LOOK
Smoking tobacco can:
- cause yellow-brown stains on your fingers, tongue and teeth
- increase your risk of tooth loss and bad breath
- make your skin saggy and give you early wrinkles
- make your hair lose its natural shine
HEALTH EFFECTS OF SMOKING
If you smoke, you:
- reduce your life expectancy and your quality of life
- increase your risk of many conditions and diseases as well as of dying prematurely
It can be a long time before smokers get a smoking-related condition or disease. Because of this, some people believe it won’t happen to them.
In fact, up to ⅔ of long term smokers will:
- die of a smoking-related disease
- have their life cut short by about 10 years on average, compared to non-smokers
There is also growing evidence to suggest that smoking has a negative impact on mental health. For example, some studies show that smoking is associated with increased rates of anxiety, panic attacks, depression, suicide attempts and schizophrenia.
SOME OF THE CONDITIONS AND DISEASES THAT CAN BE CAUSED BY SMOKING
Smoking causes most lung cancers and can cause cancer almost anywhere on the body. This includes the lips, tongue, mouth, nose, oesophagus, throat, voice box, stomach, liver, kidney, pancreas, bladder, blood, cervix, vulva, penis and anus.
Breathing problems and chronic respiratory conditions
Smoking is the main cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a serious, progressive and disabling condition that limits airflow in the lungs. Active smoking also worsens asthma in active smokers and is associated with an increased risk for asthma in adolescents and adults.
Heart disease, stroke and blood circulation problems
Smoking is major cause of cardiovascular disease, such as heart disease and stroke. Smoking increases the risk of blood clots, which block blood flow to the heart, brain or legs. Some smokers end up having their limbs amputated due to blood circulation problems caused by smoking.
Smoking causes type 2 diabetes, with the risk of developing diabetes 30 to 40% higher for active smokers than non-smokers. Smoking may also worsen some of the health conditions related to type 1 diabetes, such as kidney disease.
Smoking weakens your immune system so you’re more likely to get bacterial and viral infections.
Smoking increase the risk of gum diseases, tooth loss and tooth sensitivity. Once a person has gum damage, smoking also makes it harder for their gums to heal.
Smoking reduces blood flow to the inner ear. Smokers may also lose their hearing earlier than a non-smoker.
Smoking damages the eye and can lead to macular degeneration — the main cause of blindness in Australia.
Smoking can make it more difficult to fall pregnant and affect sperm quality. Find out more about smoking and tobacco and pregnancy.
Osteoporosis and menopause
Smoking is a risk factor for osteoporosis and in women, may result in early menopause compared to a non-smoker.
EFFECTS ON THOSE AROUND YOU
As a smoker, you can affect the health of other people when they breathe in your second-hand smoke. This means they’re breathing in the same toxic and cancer-causing chemicals that you are.
REDUCING THE EFFECTS
There is no safe level of smoking.
To reduce your risk, the best option is to quit smoking. You’ll feel the health benefits almost straight away.
Smoking is addictive.
It’s hard to stop, but with help and support, you can quit smoking.
Quitting smoking can be one of the most difficult, yet rewarding, things a person can do. Most smoker’s say they would like to quit, and may have tried at least once. Some are successful the first time, but others try a number of times before they finally give up for good.
It might take time, it can be hard as your body has become dependent on nicotine, but many people have succeeded in giving up smoking.You will feel the benefits of quitting almost straight away as your body repairs itself. Depending on how much you smoked, you should start seeing benefits in a week.
The first month
- In 12 hours excess carbon monoxide is out of your blood
- In5 days most nicotine is out of your body
- In1 week your sense of taste and smell improves
- In1 month your skin appearance is likely to improve
The first year
- In 2 months your lungs will no longer be producing extra phlegm caused by smoking
- In3 months your lung function and blood flow improves
- In12 months your risk of heart disease has halved
Longer term benefits
- In 5 years your risk of a stroke has dramatically decreased
- In 10 years your risk of lung cancer is less than half that of a continuing smoker and continues to fall
- In 15 years your risk of heart attack and stroke is almost the same as that of a person who has never smoked
It is never too late to quit. Quitting smoking is the best thing most smokers can do to improve and protect their health.
Quitting can reverse some harm caused to your body:
Cilia are small hairlike projections from certain cells that remove mucus and dirt out of the lungs. If they have been paralysed (but not destroyed), they can recover. Chest and lung conditions which are made worse by smoking, such as asthma and chest infections, can also improve.
The risk of developing most cancers will generally decrease after quitting smoking completely. While quitting at any age has benefits, the earlier you quit the lower your risk of developing smoking-related cancers.
For most people, the damage that smoking causes to the eyes can’t be reversed. It’s hard to say when damage occurs, but it appears to happen over many years.
Damage to your teeth
Quitting smoking will improve your general dental health. Quitting smoking can also benefit tooth retention, however it may take decades for the rate of tooth loss to return to the same as a non-smoker.
When you quit smoking, you will have withdrawal symptoms. These can last from a few days to a few weeks — it’s different for every person — but they are temporary.
The first week is the hardest as your body has become used to having regular nicotine ‘hits’. Don’t worry — the cravings gradually get less frequent as your body recovers from its addiction.
Here are some common symptoms and tips for dealing with them:
- Feeling tense and irritable — feeling angry and snapping at those around you, feeling panicky or anxious.
Go for a walk. Take deep breaths. Soak in a warm bath. Meditate. Do some stretching exercises.
- Depression — feeling sad, having a sense of grief or loss, lack of self-confidence.
Use positive self-talk. Speak to a friend or family member. See your doctor if the depression is intense or does not go away.
- Appetite changes — enjoying the smell and taste of food can result in overeating, or maybe you’re comfort eating in place of smoking.
Follow a well-balanced diet. Choose healthy, low-fat snacks such as fruit or vegetables.
- Constipation and gas — you might have lots of wind, stomach aches and other digestive issues.
Drink plenty of fluids. Eat lots of fruit, vegetables and high-fibre cereal.
- Insomnia — just can’t get to sleep.
Avoid beverages containing caffeine (for example, coffee, tea, cola) particularly before bed. Try relaxation exercises before bed.
- Difficulty concentrating — finding it hard to focus.
Break large projects into smaller tasks. Take regular breaks.
- Cough, dry throat and mouth, nasal drip — feeling like you’ve got the flu.
Drink plenty of fluids.
- Dizziness — your body is getting more oxygen so you might feel a bit light-headed.
Sit down and rest until it passes.
Once the first couple of weeks are over, your chances of staying smoke-free are much higher. After a month you will be feeling much better — well done!
Be aware that relapses can happen. Don’t be hard on yourself; you are not alone. Research shows that smokers may need as many as 30 attempts to quit before they are successful.
YOUR OPTIONS TO QUIT
Going cold turkey
Giving up smoking suddenly, with no outside help or support, is known as going ‘cold turkey’. People who use this method rely on their own willpower to get them through the cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
While this is a popular method, it’s not as successful as using a combination of methods and support.
If you want to try it, you’ll have a better chance of success if you:
- avoid situations that will trigger a desire to smoke
- distract yourself with new activities
- get support from family and friends
- focus on the benefits of not smoking
Gradually cutting down
This method involves slowly reducing the number of cigarettes you’re smoking until you’ve quit completely. It’s not as effective as quitting completely, but it might be a good place to start if you’re not ready to quit right away.
You can cut down by:
- slowly increasing the time between cigarettes
- reducing the number of cigarettes in your packet each day
- It’s still a good idea to set a quit date and work towards that. Read more about cutting down to quit.
Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT)
NRT aims to reduce the cravings and withdrawal symptoms that occur when you stop smoking. Used properly, NRT can make a big difference in helping you quit successfully.
Available from pharmacies and some supermarkets, without a prescription, it comes in different forms:
- nasal and oral sprays
- lozenges or tablets
How does it help?
By providing small, measured doses of nicotine into the bloodstream, you’re not getting the harmful chemicals from tobacco smoke. Reducing physical withdrawal symptoms means you can focus on the situations and emotions that can trigger a desire to smoke.
Some nicotine patches are available at a reduced price through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) for all eligible Australians (including concession card holders). Your doctor will need to give you a prescription so it’s best to talk about which products will work best for you.
There are other prescription medicines, available through the PBS, that can reduce withdrawal symptoms, such as Bupropion (Zyban) and Varenicline (Champix®). They work by blocking the nicotine receptors in your brain so smoking is less enjoyable.
These medicines are not suitable for everybody, so talk to your doctor or health professional to find out whether they’re right for you. There are limits on how many prescriptions you can have in a year, and you may be required to receive support from Quitline or a health professional while you’re quitting.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are eligible for extra help through the PBS.
My QuitBuddy is a free mobile phone app designed to support and encourage you to quit smoking. It lets you set personal goals, track your progress and see how much money you’ve saved. Alerts and other messages help keep you on track and support is available from the many other people using the app.
The Quit for You – Quit for Two mobile phone app helps pregnant women to quit smoking. While it offers similar features to My QuitBuddy it has also has information about your baby’s development to help keep you motivated.
Support services you may find helpful include:
- Your GP. All MyClinic GPs are available to help you quit smoking. Book an appointment with them today to discuss options available to you.
- the Quitline— call 137 848 between 8am and 8pm Monday to Friday, to talk to a counsellor or ask for a callback
- Quit Pack — ask the Quitline for this free pack. It contains useful information including: a book to help you prepare, a guide to choosing the best way for you to quit, and a handy wallet card with tips to cope with cravings
- QuitCoach— an online tool that asks questions about your smoking habits and lifestyle. Using that information it creates a quit plan tailored for you
- the Quit because you can bookletis part of the Quit Kit. This booklet includes information to help you learn about why you smoke and describes different ways of quitting. No matter where you are in your quit journey, this booklet has advice for you.
Other alternative methods that some people try include:
There is no clear evidence so far to show how much these kinds of methods will help you to quit smoking.
Other methods that people think will help them quite smoking include:
- switching to lower nicotine and tar cigarettes
- using filters and filter blocking products
- using e-cigarettes
There is no evidence that any of these methods will help you to quit smoking or reduce your risk of smoking-related diseases.