Until the 1950’s, when the first cases of lung cancer were discovered, the effects of smoking were unknown. It is now common knowledge that smoking cigarettes poses serious health risks, but 1.3 billion people worldwide continue to smoke (Britton and Higgins 2006).
Cigarette smoke contains around 200 poisons and 4,000 chemicals (Britton and Higgins 2006 and Foulds 2008). These include hydrogen cyanide, nitrites, ammonia, trace metals, radioactive compounds, tar, nicotine and carbon monoxide. Collectively these affect the function of the cilia in the lungs; inflame the lungs, damage DNA, damage the kidneys and arteries, and increase exposure to radiation (Cancer Research UK n.d). Tar becomes trapped in and stains the lungs, tumours may develop here and block airways. Carbon monoxide has a higher affinity for haemoglobin than oxygen, so oxygen concentration is reduced. Finally, nicotine stimulates the release of dopamine and causes addiction. It promotes vasoconstriction, hypertension and increased heart rate (Foulds 2008, Disability Online 2004 and Britton and Higgins 2006).
Respiratory problems caused by smoking include bronchitis, lung disease and emphysema. The lungs are susceptible to infection due to damage of the cilia and phagocytes which would normally remove foreign bodies (McKim 2003). The alveolar walls are destroyed and will fuse with surrounding alveoli, however there are fewer capillaries available for gas exchange resulting in breathing difficulties. (Widmaier, Raff and Strang 2008).
Lung cancer is one of the most common causes of death in smokers; 10% of these deaths were non smokers (Rosenfeld 2001). However, there are many others including bladder, kidney, stomach, liver, breast and mouth. Around 80 chemicals in cigarette smoke are carcinogenic causing mutations in DNA which may then develop into fast growing tumour cells. An unhealthy diet, obesity and diabetes are other risk factors (Cancer Research UK).
Heart disease, coronary artery disease, coronary thrombosis, and heart attacks are all risks of smoking. Smokers are twice as likely to suffer with heart problems (Rosenfeld 2001). An atheroma is a fatty substance containing cholesterol which develops in the coronary artery, this can reduce blood flow and the artery may become blocked; this produces a blood clot, resulting in a heart attack (Widmair, Raff and Strang 2008). McKim (2003) and Foulds (2008) suggest heart disease is the result of nicotine and carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide substitutes oxygen, reducing the amount available to organs. As nicotine increases heart rate and tension in the heart walls, it must work harder to meet oxygen demands. In addition, the capability of the lungs to diffuse oxygen into the blood is reduced, resulting in oxygen deficiency in the brain and heart.
To conclude, the damage smoking does is dependent on the amount of tobacco smoked over a period of time. This damage may have been preventable and could be irreversible. Government campaigns have been designed to encourage cessation, and 30% of smokers have attempted this. However, one billion deaths are expected to be directly related to smoking in the 21st Century (Britton and Higgins 2006 and Cancer Research UK n.d).
Britton, H. Higgins, J. (2006) We Love Cigarettes.[DVD] United Kingdom: BBC.
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Foulds, J. (2008) What is in cigarette smoke?. [17 February 2008] available from< http://www.healthline.com/blogs/smoking_cessation/labels/tar.html> [10 November 2009]
McKim, W, A. (2003) Drugs And Behaviour: An Introduction To Behavioral Pharmacology. 5th Edition. New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc.
Rosenfeld, J, A (2001). Handbook of Women’s Health: An Evidence-Based Approach [online]New York: Cambridge University Press. Available from: [2 November 2009]
Widmaier, E, P. Raff, H. Strang, K, T. (2008) Vander’s Human Physiology: The Mechanisms Of Body Functions. 11th Edition. New York: McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc .
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