What in cigarette smoke is harmful?
Cigarette smoke is a complex mixture of chemicals produced by the burning of tobacco and the additives. The smoke contains tar, which is made up of more than 4,000 chemicals, including over 60 known to cause cancer. Some of these substances cause heart and lung diseases, and all of them can be deadly. You might be surprised to know some of the chemicals found in cigarette smoke. They include:
- methanol (wood alcohol)
- acetylene (the fuel used in welding torches)
- Cigarette smoke also contains the poisonous gases nitrogen oxide and carbon monoxide. Its main active ingredient is nicotine, an addictive drug.
Can quitting really help a lifelong smoker?
Yes. It is never too late to quit. The sooner smokers quit, the more they can reduce their chances of getting cancer and other diseases. Within minutes of smoking the last cigarette, the body begins to restore itself.
- 20 minutes After Quitting: Your heart rate and blood pressure drop.
- 12 hours After Quitting: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
- 2 weeks to 3 Months After Quitting: Your circulation improves and your lung function increases.
- 1 to 9 Months After Quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia (tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs) regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection.
- 1 Year After Quitting: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker's.
- 5 Years After Quitting: Your stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker 5 to 15 years after quitting.
- 10 Years After Quitting: The lung cancer death rate is about half that of a continuing smoker's. The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, cervix, and pancreas decreases.
- 15 Years After Quitting: The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker's.
Visible and Immediate Rewards of Quitting
Quitting helps stop the damaging effects of tobacco on your appearance, including:
premature wrinkling of the skin
- premature wrinkling of the skin
- bad breath
- stained teeth
- gum disease
- bad smelling clothes and hair
- yellow fingernails
Kicking the tobacco habit offers benefits that you'll notice immediately and some that will develop gradually over time. These rewards can improve your day-to-day life immensely.
- Food tastes better.
- Your sense of smell returns to normal.
- Ordinary activities no longer leave you out of breath (for example, climbing stairs or light housework).
Suppose I smoke for a while and then quit?
Smoking begins to cause damage right away and is highly addictive. Several studies have found nicotine to be as addictive as heroin, cocaine, or alcohol; it’s the most common form of drug addiction in the United States. Therefore, it’s obviously better never to start smoking cigarettes -- and become addicted to nicotine -- than it is to smoke with the thought of quitting later. Like alcohol, heroin, and cocaine, nicotine creates a tolerance in the body, making it hard to quit, but with the right support it can be done.
When an ex-smoker smokes a cigarette, even years after quitting, the body reacts in the same way as when the person was smoking, which can cause the person to want to smoke again. Don't think you can smoke for a short while and quit when you want to; it's seldom that easy.
How do people quit smoking?
Quitting smoking is not easy, and some people try several times before succeeding. There are many ways to quit smoking. For example, some have been successful by stopping "cold turkey," while others might create a plan and use resources such as smart phone apps. There's no single best way to quit. Quitting for good may mean using many methods, including step-by-step manuals, self-help classes or counseling, toll-free telephone-based counseling programs, and/or using medicine (see next question). Smokers may also need to make changes in their daily routine to help them break their smoking habits. For more information, see this Quit Guide and these Quit Smoking Apps.
What is nicotine replacement therapy?
Nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) are medicines that help decrease or stop a smoker's withdrawal symptoms by providing controlled doses of nicotine without the other harmful chemicals of cigarette smoke. NRTs are available as patches, gums, inhalers, nasal sprays, or lozenges. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved all of these products as smoking cessation aids. Patches, gums, and lozenges are available "over-the-counter," while inhalers and nasal sprays require a doctor’s prescription.
These products work by helping smokers control their physical responses as they quit; for best results, smokers should use NRTs in combination with behavioral change programs that are designed to help smokers break their psychological (mental) dependence on cigarettes. For more information on such programs, call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-ACS-2345.
Not everyone can use nicotine replacement therapy. People with certain medical conditions and pregnant women should use it only with a doctor's supervision. It is always a good idea to get your doctor's input and support when you make the decision to quit smoking. Learn more here.
Are there other medicines or vaccines to help smokers quit?
Yes. Some medicines that don't contain nicotine are already approved to help with quitting smoking.
Bupropion (Zyban) is an antidepressant that is FDA approved for helping people quit smoking. This medicine, which does not contain nicotine, is available only with a doctor's prescription. It affects chemicals in the brain that are related to nicotine craving. It can be used alone or together with nicotine replacement.
Newer medicines may help smokers (or former smokers) by stopping them from getting physical pleasure from smoking. The medicines seem to work by stopping nicotine from stimulating the brain, either by blocking the brain receptors that nicotine normally attaches to, or (in the case of the vaccines) preventing it from reaching the brain altogether.
One such medicine, varenicline (Chantix), attaches to nicotine receptors in the brain, reducing the pleasurable effects of smoking and helping to reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms. Because varenicline is a new drug, there is no research supporting its safety in using it with nicotine replacement products at the same time.
It is unlikely that any of these drugs will work for every person, however, and using different quitting aids at the same time may increase your chances of quitting successfully.
Are You at Risk? 10 Lung Cancer Risk Factors You Should Know
Tobacco. 87% of all lung cancers in the United States are tobacco-related. Quitting smoking helps to reduce that risk.
Secondhand smoke. Exposure to secondhand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer by 20 percent to 30 percent.
Asbestos. When asbestos is inhaled, the fibers can irritate the lung and may eventually cause lung disease. People who smoke and are exposed to asbestos have a higher risk of developing lung cancer. Fortunately, professional protective breathing equipment can reduce the risk of breathing in asbestos fibers for those who work with or around asbestos.
Radon. It’s an odorless gas released by some soil and rocks that contain uranium. Some homes may have high levels of radon, especially on the lower levels, because they are built on soil that naturally contains radon. You can purchase Environmental Protection Agency-approved kits in hardware stores to measure the amount of radon in your home.
Industrial substances. Arsenic, uranium, beryllium, vinyl chloride, nickel chromates, coal products, mustard gas, chloromethyl ethers, gasoline, and diesel exhaust are known cancer causing substances.
Radiation exposure. X-rays to the chest area can increase the risk of lung cancer, especially in people who smoke.
Air pollution. Polluted air can contain trace amounts of diesel exhaust, coal products, and other industrial substances known to cause cancer.
Tuberculosis. TB can cause scarring of lung tissue, which can be a risk factor for developing lung cancer.
Genetics. Family history can also play a role in the development of lung cancer.
Military service. Both veterans and active-duty personnel may have exposures to industrial substances, asbestos bearing materials, and air pollution, as well as tactical chemicals such as Agent Orange.
*FromLungCancer.org, a Program of CancerCare