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Medical Bulletin


What health problems are caused by smoking?

Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body and diminishes a person’s overall health. Smoking is a leading cause of cancer and of death from cancer. It causes cancers of the lung, esophagus, larynx (voice box), mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach, and cervix, as well as acute myeloid leukemia Smoking also causes heart disease, stroke, lung disease (chronic bronchitis and emphysema), hip fractures, and cataracts. Smokers are at higher risk of developing pneumonia and other airway infections

A pregnant smoker is at higher risk of having her baby born too early and with an abnormally low weight. A woman who smokes during or after pregnancy increases her infant’s risk of death from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome

Does tobacco smoke contain harmful chemicals?

Yes. Tobacco smoke contains chemicals that are harmful to both smokers and nonsmokers. Breathing even a little tobacco smoke can be harmful. Of the 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful. The toxic chemicals found in smoke include hydrogen cyanide (used in chemical weapons), carbon monoxide (found in car exhaust), formaldehyde (used as an embalming fluid), ammonia (used in household cleaners), and toluene (found in paint thinners). Of the 250 known harmful chemicals in tobacco smoke, more than 50 have been found to cause cancer. These chemicals include.

  • arsenic (a heavy metal toxin)
  • benzene (a chemical found in gasoline)
  • beryllium (a toxic metal)
  • cadmium (a metal used in batteries)
  • chromium (a metallic element)
  • ethylene oxide (a chemical used to sterilize medical devices)
  • nickel (a metallic element)
  • polonium–210 (a chemical element that gives off radiation)
  • vinyl chloride (a toxic substance used in plastics manufacture)

What are the immediate benefits of quitting smoking?

The immediate health benefits of quitting smoking are substantial. Heart rate and blood pressure, which were abnormally high while smoking, begin to return to normal. Within a few hours, the level of carbon monoxide in the blood begins to decline. (Carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas found in cigarette smoke, reduces the blood’s ability to carry oxygen.) Within a few weeks, people who quit smoking have improved circulation, don’t produce as much phlegm, and don’t cough or wheeze as often. Within several months of quitting, people can expect significant improvements in lung function.

What are the long-term benefits of quitting smoking?

Quitting smoking reduces the risk of cancer and other diseases, such as heart disease and lung disease, caused by smoking. People who quit smoking, regardless of their age, are less likely than those who continue to smoke to die from smoking-related illness. Studies have shown that quitting at age 30 reduces the chance of dying from smoking-related diseases by more than 90%. People who quit at about age 50 reduce their risk of dying prematurely by 50% compared with those who continue to smoke.

Does quitting smoking lower the risk of cancer?

Quitting smoking substantially reduces the risk of developing and dying from cancer, and this benefit increases the longer a person remains smoke free. However, even after many years of not smoking, the risk of lung cancer in former smokers remains higher than in people who have never smoked .

The risk of premature death and the chance of developing cancer due to cigarettes depend on the number of years of smoking, the number of cigarettes smoked per day, the age at which smoking began, and the presence or absence of illness at the time of quitting.

Should someone already diagnosed with cancer bother to quit smoking?

Yes. There are many reasons that people diagnosed with cancer should quit smoking. For those having surgery or other treatments, quitting smoking helps improve the body’s ability to heal and respond to the cancer treatment, and it lowers the risk of pneumonia and respiratory failure. Also, quitting smoking may lower the risk of the cancer returning or a second cancer forming.

What are some of the challenges associated with quitting smoking?

Quitting smoking may cause short-term problems, especially for those who have smoked a large number of cigarettes for a long period of time:

  • Feeling sad or anxious: People who quit smoking are likely to feel depressed, anxious, irritable, and restless, and may have difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
  • Gaining weight: Increased appetite is a common withdrawal symptom after quitting smoking, and studies show that people who quit smoking increase their food intake . Although most smokers gain less than 10 pounds, for some people the weight gain can be troublesome. Regular physical activity can help people maintain a healthy weight.

Depression, anxiety, restlessness, weight gain, and other problems are symptoms of nicotine withdrawal . Many people find that nicotine replacement products and other medicines may relieve these problems. . However, even without medication, withdrawal symptoms and other problems do subside over time.

Can a doctor, dentist, or pharmacist help a person quit smoking?

Doctors, dentists, and pharmacists can be good sources of information about the health risks of smoking and the benefits of quitting. They can describe the proper use and potential side effects of nicotine replacement therapy and other medicines, and they can help people find local quit smoking resources.

How can I help someone I know quit smoking?

It’s understandable to be concerned about someone you know who currently smokes. It’s important to find out if this person wants to quit smoking. Most smokers say they want to quit. If they don’t want to quit, try to find out why. Here are some things you can do to help:

  • Express things in terms of your own concern about the smoker’s health (“I’m worried about...”).
  • Acknowledge that the smoker may get something out of smoking and may find it difficult to quit.
  • Be encouraging and express your faith that the smoker can quit for good.
  • Suggest a specific action, such as calling a smoking quitline, for help in quitting smoking.
  • Ask the smoker for ways you can provide support.

Here are two things you should not do:

  • Don’t send quit smoking materials to smokers unless they ask for them.
  • Don’t criticize, nag, or remind the smoker about past failures.

What are nicotine replacement products?

Nicotine is the substance in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco that causes addiction. Nicotine replacement products deliver small, measured doses of nicotine into the body, which helps to relieve the cravings and withdrawal symptoms often felt by people trying to quit smoking. Strong and consistent evidence shows that nicotine replacement products can help people quit smoking.

It’s far less harmful for a person to get nicotine from a nicotine replacement product than from cigarettes because tobacco smoke contains many toxic and cancer-causing substances. Long-term use of nicotine replacement products is not known to be associated with any serious harmful effects.

Are there alternative methods to help people quit smoking?

Some people claim that alternative approaches such as hypnosis, acupuncture, acupressure, laser therapy, or electrostimulation may help reduce the symptoms associated with nicotine withdrawal. However, clinical studies have not shown that these alternative approaches help people quit smoking.

What if a person smokes again after quitting?

Many smokers find it difficult to quit. People commonly quit smoking and then find themselves smoking again, especially in the first few weeks or months after quitting. People who smoke after quitting should try again to quit. Most people find that they need to persist in their attempts to quit smoking before they quit for good. It may take four or more attempts before smokers are able to quit for good . People who stop smoking for 3 months or longer have an excellent chance of remaining cigarette free for the rest of their lives.