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 Health & You:
Oct 29, 2013
By: Eze Nkeiruka Perpetua

Nigeria: -

Smoking is a practice in which substances mostly tobacco is burned and the smoke is tasted or inhaled. This is practiced as route of administration for recreational drug use, as combustion release the active substances in drugs such as Nicotine. The most common method of smoking is through Cigarette.

Historically, smoking as a practice which was followed by natives of the Western Hemispheres in religious rituals and for the medicinal purposes. It has a history starting from the late 1500s.

 Cigarette contains more than 4000 chemicals compounds and at least 400 toxic substances. When it is inhaled, a cigarette burns at 700◦c at the tip and around 60◦c in the core. This heat breaks down the tobacco to produce various toxins. Tobacco is the single greatest cause of preventable death globally. Tobacco use , leads most commonly to diseases affecting the heart, liver and lungs with smoking being major risk factors for heart attacks, strokes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer. It also causes peripheral vascular disease and hypertension. The effects depend on the number of years that a person smokes and on how much the person smokes. The ingredients in cigarette affect everything from the internal functioning of organs to the efficiency of the body’s immune system. The effects of cigarette smoking are destructive and widespread.



A cigarette looks harmless but it is tobacco leaves covered in a classic white paper. When it burns, it releases a dangerous cocktail of about 4000 chemicals which include more than 70 cancer-causing chemicals, hundreds of other poison. Nicotine, a highly addictive drug and other addictives designed to make cigarettes taste nicer which keeps smokers hooked.


TAR: A mixture of dangerous chemicals .It is a term that describes a collection of solid particles that smokers inhale when they light a cigarette. This chemicals cause’s cancer. When it settles, tar forms a sticky, brown residue that can stain smokers teeth, fingers and lungs.

ARSENIC- Used in wood preservatives, it is one of the most dangerous chemicals in cigarettes; It damages the heart and its blood vessels. Small amounts of arsenic can accumulate in smokers bodies building up to higher concentrations over months and years.

BENZENE: Benzene is a solvent used to manufacture other chemicals including petrol. Benzene can cause cancer particularly Leukemia.  Tobacco smoke contains large amounts of benzene and accounts for a big proportion of our exposure to this poison. The average smoker inhales about 10 times more benzene than average non-smoker.

CADMIUM: Cadmium is a metal used to make batteries. The majority of cadmium in our bodies comes from exposure to tobacco smoke. Studies have found that the amounts of cadmium present in tobacco smoke are capable of affecting our health. It is a known cause of cancer, can also damage the kidneys and the linings of arteries. Human bodies have proteins that mop up harmful chemical like Cadmium, but the amount in smoke can overload these proteins. Cadmium can also prevent our cells from repairing damaged DNA.

FORMALDEHYDE: It is a smelly chemical used to kill bacteria, preserve dead bodies. It is a known cause of cancer. It is believed that even small amounts in second hand smoke could increase our life time risk of cancer.

POLONIUM 210: It is a rare, radioactive element. It strongly emits a very damaging type of radiation called alpha-radiation that can be blocked by thin layers of skin. Tobacco smoke contains traces of Polonium which become deposited inside their airways and deliver radiation directly to surrounding cells. A study estimated that someone smoking one and half packs a day receives the equivalent amount of radiation as someone having 300 chest X-rays for year.

CHROMIUM: It is a metal used to make metallic alloys, dyes and paints. Chromium VI or hexavalent chromium is very toxic is found in tobacco smoke, its known to cause lung cancer it allows other cancer-causing chemicals to stick more strongly to DNA and damage it.

1,3-Butadiene: It is industrial chemical used in rubber manufacture. It is found in large amounts in tobacco smoke.

POLYCYCLIC AROMATIC HYDROCARBONS: Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are group of powerful cancer-causing chemicals that can damage DNA and set cells down the road of becoming tumours. One of these chemicals-Benzo(a)pyrene or BAP- is one of the most widely studied of all tobacco poisons.BAP directly damages P53,a gene that normally protects our bodies cancer.

NITROSAMINES: Are group of chemical that can directly damage DNA like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs).They are found in relatively small amounts in Cigarettes ,they are very strong cancer-causing chemicals.

ACROLEIN: Acrolein is a gas with an intensely irritating smell and is one of the most abundant chemicals in cigarette smoke. It can cause DNA damage, It kills the hairs that normally clean our lungs of other toxin.

OTHER CHEMICALS: Some of the other cancer-causing ingredients of tobacco smoke include metals, such as nickel, lead, cobalt and beryllium. While you may be exposed to some of these metals through domestic items or food, inhaling them in tobacco is worse because they are easily absorbed by the lungs.

ACETALDEHYDE: Which is also formed in your tissues when you drink alcohol? It is responsible for many nasty hangover symptoms.

HYDROGEN CYANIDE: It is a poisonous gas. it does the most damage to the heart and blood vessels among all the chemicals in tobacco.

CARBON MONOXIDE: It is a colourless gas with no smell, carbon monoxide sticks to our red blood cells in place in oxygen. This lowers our bloods ability to transport oxygen and deprives our tissues and organs of this vital gas. Like hydrogen cyanide, it kills cilia and reduces our lungs ability to clear away toxins. This means that while carbon monoxide does not cause cancer directly, it makes it easier for other chemicals to do so.

NITROGEN OXIDE: It is found in car exhaust and tobacco smoke. Our bodies use it in very small amount to carry signals between cells. In large amount, it is a major air pollutant. It directly damages lung tissue and causes inflammation in the lungs. Normally our bodies produce small amounts of nitrogen oxide which causes our airways to expand. The large amount of nitrogen oxide in tobacco smoke changes in two ways:

  1. When smokers are smoking, it expands their airways even further, making it easier for their lungs to absorb nicotine and other chemicals.
  2. When they are not smoking, it shuts of their internal nitrogen oxide production line, causing their airways to constrict. This is one reason why regular smokers often have difficulty breathing.


AMMONIA: It is a gas with a strong, irritating smell and is used in some toilet cleaners. Some studies have found that ammonia enhances the addictive power of nicotine. It changes nicotine into a gas that is more readily absorbed into the lungs, airways and blood stream.


  1. Cardiovascular disease: The main cause of death due to smoking. Hardening of the arteries is a process that develops over years, when cholesterol and other fats deposit in the arteries, leaving them narrow, blocked or rigid. When atherosclerosis’ occurs which is the narrowing of the arteries blood clots are likely to form. Smoking accelerates the hardening and narrowing process in your arteries. It starts earlier and blood clots are two to four times more likely.

Cardiovascular disease can take many forms depending on which blood vessels are involved, they are all common in people who smoke.

Coronary Thrombosis: A blood clot in the arteries supplying the heart, which can lead to a heart attack. smokers tend to develop coronary thrombosis 10 years earlier than non smokers and make up 9 out of 10 heart by pass patient.

Cerebral thrombosis: The vessels to the brain can become blocked which can lead to collapse, stroke and paralysis .Damage to the brain blood supply is also an important cause of dementia. Blockage to the vascular supply to the legs may lead to Gangrene and amputation. If kidney arteries are affected, then high blood pressure or kidney failure results.


Smokers are more likely to get cancer than non-smokers. This is particularly true of lung cancer, throat cancer and mouth cancer, which hardly ever affect non smoker. The link between smoking and lung cancer is clear. Ninety percent of lung cancer cases are due to smoking. If no- one smoked, lung cancer would be a rare diagnosis- only 0.5% of people who have never touched a Cigarette develop lung cancer. One in Ten moderate smokers and almost one in five heavy smokers (more than 15 cigarette a day) will die of lung cancer. The more cigarette you smoke in a day, and the longer you have smoked, the higher your risk of lung cancer, Similarly,the risk rises the deeper you inhale and the earlier in life you started smoking.

For ex-smokers, it takes approximately 15 years before the risk of lung cancer drops to the same as that of a non-smoker. If you smoke, the risk of contracting mouth cancer is four times higher than four a non smoker. Cancer can start in many areas of the mouth, with the most common being on or underneath the tongue or on the lips.

Other types of cancer that are common in smokers are :

Bladder cancer

Cancer of the oesophagus

Cancer of the kidneys

Cancer of the pancreas

Cervical cancer

 1.CHRONIC OBSTRUCTIVE PULMONARY DISEASE (COPD): Is a collective term for a group of conditions that block airflow and make breathing more difficult such as

Emphysema – Breathlessness caused by damage to the air sac (alveoli)

Chronic bronchitis – Coughing with a lot of mucus that continues for at least three months.

 Smoking is the most common cause of COPD and is responsible for 80% of cases. It is estimated that 94% of 20- a- day smokers have. Some emphysema when lungs are examined after death, while more than 90% of non smokers have little or none.

 COPD typically starts between the ages of 35 and 45 when lung function starts to decline anyway. In smokers, the rate of decline in lung function can be three times the usual rate. As lung declines, breathlessness begins.


  • Smoking raises blood pressure which can cause hypertension a risk factor for heart attacks and stroke.
  • Smoking worsens asthma and counteracts asthma medication by worsening the inflammation of the airways that the medicine tries to ease.
  • Cigarette smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of low birth weight, prematurity, spontaneous abortion, and perinatal mortality in humans which has been referred to as the fetal tobacco syndrome.
  • Smoking also affects your looks: smokers have paler skin and more wrinkles. This is because smoking reduces the blood supply to the skin and lowers levels of Vitamin A.


For men in their earlier30s and 40s, smoking increases the risk of having erectile dysfunction (ED) about 50%.

Erection cannot occur unless blood can flow freely into the penis, so these blood vessels have to be good condition. Smoking can damage the blood vessels and cause them to degenerate: Nicotine narrows the arteries that lead to the penis, reducing blood flow and the pressure of blood in the penis. Erection problems in smokers may be an early warning signal that cigarettes are already damaging other areas of the body- such as the blood vessels that supply the heart. 

                              WOULD YOU LIKE TO QUIT?

  • Quitting completely (cold turkey method) which may require several attempts by you but will improve your chances by thoughtful preparation.
  • Stop smoking pill Varenicline: It is a prescription pill used to treat smoking addiction. It reduces cravings for and decreases the pleasurable effects of cigarettes and other tobacco. Varenicline can be viewed as a form of aversion therapy that makes the act of smoking more repulsive.
  • Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT) is a type of treatment that uses special products to give small steady doses of nicotine to help stop cravings and relieve symptoms that occur when a person is trying to quit smoking. These products include nicotine gum, nicotine inhaler, nicotine nasal spray, and nicotine Lozenges.
  • Taper method: Some smokers quit successfully by cutting down gradually. E.g. you might start cutting down to five cigarettes a day or less or delaying the first by an hour each day. However, a point must be reached where smoking is stopped altogether.
  • Counseling or stop smoking programs should be encouraged


Once you decide and suddenly quit smoking, the body is in kind of state of loss. Your body is confused and doesn’t know how to work normally as it was unable to work normally since long. The common side effects when you quit smoking are:

  • Blood sugar might go down
  • Insomnia
  • Irritation
  • Drowsiness
  • Cough
  • Weight gain

The above problems are temporal and should vanish within 3-5 days.











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