Every year tobacco addiction kills millions of people worldwide. Cigarette smoke contains many dangerous chemicals such as tar and carbon monoxide but nicotine is the primary addictive component of tobacco. Smoking can harm nearly every organ in the body, and is the primary cause of many diseases. Tobacco intake occurs mostly through smoking cigarettes and pipes, but is also chewed or inhaled as snuff. It even puts non-smokers’ health at risk by way of passive smoking, which happens when non-smokers inhale smoke that smokers exhale.
Harmful effects of tobacco
The most harmful substances in tobacco are nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide and carcinogens. These substances harm not only the lungs but almost all other body organs. When one smokes tobacco, the tar that is inhaled causes irritation and inflammation of the lung tissues, the carbon monoxide impairs the ability of red blood cells to carry oxygen, while nicotine has a numbing effect within seconds of intake. The numbing gives the smoker a false sense of well-being and tranquillity, though some claims have been made that it improves the ability to concentrate. Nicotine is very addictive and tobacco smokers find it extremely difficult to give up the habit, and even if they do manage to give up, there is the constant risk of the habit relapsing.
Harmful effects of tobacco addiction
The substances in smoke irritate and inflame the mucous membranes in the air passages serving the lungs, stimulating them to produce more mucous, and therefore smokers usually develop a ‘smoker’s cough’ to expel the excess mucous. Over a period of time, smoking is likely to lead to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and breathlessness. The carcinogens in tobacco smoke are the major cause of deaths due to lung cancer. Tobacco smoking can also cause cancers of the larynx and nasopharynx, with the risk factor increasing if the smoker also drinks alcohol. It also causes irreparable damage to the cardiovascular system. The nicotine and carbon monoxide in the tobacco smoke cause the arteries to narrow down, which in turn causes artherosclerosis, which increases the risk of a stroke or other coronary heart diseases.
Smokers, even more so people who chew tobacco, are at greater risk of developing mouth cancer. When carcinogens present in the tobacco pass into the bloodstream, it can cause cancer in other parts of the body like the bladder or the cervix. The harmful effects of tobacco smoking may aggravate peptic ulcers, and reduce fertility in both men and women.
Harmful effects of passive smoking
Passive smoking occurs when a person inhales cigarette smoke exhaled by smokers around them. It irritates the eyes, nose and throat, and can even be a cause of headache and nausea. It can aggravate asthma, and prolonged exposure to such smoke can even cause lung cancer and heart diseases. Children of smokers are at greater risks of contracting diseases associated with passive smoking, and even sudden infant death syndrome. Besides, children of smokers are at a greater risk of developing a smoking addiction themselves when they grow older.
Precautions to be taken
The foremost precaution is to avoid developing the habit in the first place, but if the addiction has taken root, it is better to quit before the habit can cause any significant damage. Still, regardless of how long a person has been smoking, they can prevent further damage by quitting instantly. The moment a person stops smoking, the risks of lung cancer and other smoking related diseases start reducing. Older people, too, who have smoked for most of their lives can improve their health by giving up the addiction. Doctors and medical practitioners can provide valuable guidance to the addicts and help them to overcome the habit.