Why Give Up Smoking?


So you’ve seen all the warnings about how
smoking is so bad for you. But here’s the question: Why? What is it about smoking that is so dangerous? Let’s find out! A cigarette is usually made up of 3 parts: First there is the cigarette filter, this
is also known as the cigarette butt. Then there is the rolling paper which is wrapped
around a tobacco blend. The tobacco blend is usually made up of dried
and processed tobacco leaves and leaf stems. The main plant used in the manufacture of
tobacco is Nicotiana Tabacum. So what happens once a cigarette is lit? Well the tobacco blend contains over 7000
different chemicals. These chemicals are released in the form of
small particles and gases. Cigarette smoke then passes through the cigarette
filter. The cigarette filter traps bits of partially
burnt tobacco – this is also called tar. The cigarette filter is able to trap some
but not all of the tar. Tar is sticky and brown, resulting in that
characteristic yellow stain. In addition to staining the smokers fingernails,
it also moves into the mouth and stains the teeth, the inner part of the mouth and also
the vocal cords. The vocal cords become irritated because of
the tar, making people cough reflexively. Once cigarette smoke has passed through the
upper airway, it then goes to the lower airway. The lower airway is lined by cilia. Cilia are tiny hair like projections that
beat in order to move debris and bacteria out of the lung. Hydrogen cyanide is a poisonous gas that works
with tar in order to paralyse these cilia. With the cilia out of action, the cigarette
smoke is able to move even deeper into the lung. Multiple other cancer causing chemicals in
tobacco such as Arsenic and Benzopyrene also coat the lining of the airways. This is where they significantly increase
the risk of lung cancer. With the main defence of the lungs paralysed,
the cigarette smoke moves into the deepest part of the lung. This is the alveoli or the air sacs of the
lung. Normally, this is where oxygen is exchanged
for carbon dioxide using a transfer protein called haemoglobin. Haemoglobin then carries the oxygen to the
rest of the body, where the body cells use it as fuel. Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas that is
also found in cigarette smoke. Carbon Monoxide is a bully. It knocks off oxygen from haemoglobin and
instead takes it’s place. The problem here is that the body can’t
use carbon monoxide as fuel, so these (body) cells starve because of the lack of oxygen. These starving cells send out inflammatory
‘SOS’ signals. However this backfires because the increased
inflammation leads to increased mucous production and narrowing of the airways, making it even
more difficult to breathe. The remaining chemicals in cigarette smoke
are also absorbed into the bloodstream. This is an important event – the bloodstream
is the highway to all the organs inside the body. Once these chemicals are absorbed into the
bloodstream, there is no limit to the amount of damage they can cause and the damage from
these chemicals is no longer contained to just the lungs. There are a large number of oxidising chemicals
in cigarette smoke. These chemicals are highly reactive and can
damage any type of body cells. The first thing in sight for these chemicals
are the blood vessels themselves – oxidising chemicals react with the lining of the blood
vessels causing inflammation and fatty plaques. These fatty plaques narrow the blood vessels. The oxidising chemicals also damage the vessels
that supply the heart and brain with oxygen – if these critical vessels become blocked,
then part of the heart muscle or the brain tissue can die. Death of the heart muscle is called a heart
attack or a myocardial infarction and death of the brain tissue is called a stroke, and
can often lead to permanent disability. Metals such as Arsenic and radioactive compounds
like Polonium continue to travel to the other organs of the body through the blood. They significantly increase of the risk of
cancer other than lung cancer, for example, skin cancer, liver cancer, kidney cancer and
even bladder cancer. And finally, the one chemical to rule them
all, Nicotine. None of the effects that I’ve mentioned earlier
sound attractive. So why is it that people continue to smoke? It is the nicotine in cigarettes that make
them so addictive. Within 7 seconds of smoking a cigarette, Nicotine
rich blood travels from the lungs to the brain. In the brain, the nicotine attaches to a class
of receptor called the Nicotinic Acetylcholine receptors. Once these receptors are activated, they release
a flurry of brain messengers like dopamine, adrenaline and serotonin. This leads to the activation of the brain’s
reward and alertness system. This is why some people report feeling more
focussed and attentive after smoking a cigarette. Nicotine can also cause temporary feelings
of relaxation, due to the increased level of serotonin in the brain Nicotine only stays in the body for a few
hours. It is broken down in the liver and expelled
through the urine. As soon as the Nicotine exits the body, the
body misses the buzz of having these huge amounts of stimulating brain messengers rushing
around. Cravings can begin just two hours after your
last smoke. Signs of nicotine withdrawal include restlessness,
anxiety, frustration, anger, and even insomnia. Every time you light another cigarette, the
effect of nicotine gets weaker, as your brain develops a tolerance to the drug. Now you’ll need even more Nicotine to get
the same high, and cravings get even stronger. This forms the cycle of addiction. There are thousands of other chemicals in
tobacco smoke – we’ve only touched the tip of the iceberg. At least another 250 are known to be harmful
and 70 are known to initiate, cause or promote cancer. Now imagine putting your brain and your body
through this kind of rollercoaster, every few hours, every day for many years. In Australia, people who smoke, smoke on average
93 cigarettes per week. In a year, that’s 4836 cigarettes, costing
you as much money as 4 new iPhones. Other than the increased risk in cancer, there
are so many other long term effects of smoking. Things like breakdown of the alveoli wall
which is also called emphysema, staining and wrinkling of the skin, loss of smell and taste,
impotence, and the list just goes on… Tobacco is the only legal drug that kills
its users when used exactly as intended by its manufacturers. In the US, the National Survey of Drug Use
and Health found that over 95% of smokers started before the age of 21. It can be very difficult to overcome an addiction
to nicotine, so the best thing you can do is to never pick up a cigarette in the first
place. So what’s the good news? Well, the number of smokers worldwide is decreasing
and with the power of the internet, help for people who want to quit smoking is just at
our fingertips. With the combined effect of more informed
younger people and stronger tobacco control laws, we may one day see a generation who
are smoke free. And wouldn’t that be a monumental achievement
for humanity. If you are smoking and even thinking of quitting,
you are halfway there. Make the decision today.