Maybe you smoke or someone in your home smokes. Or maybe a friend or family member smokes. Either way, we know that smoking isn’t good for us. Today, my goal is to provide some more detail for those that are contemplating quitting. Let me explain a few risks of smoking (and breathing in secondhand smoke) and shed more light on the question, “how can refraining from smoking benefit an individual’s health”.
>>For a free PDF of resources to help you quit smoking, click HERE.<<
Types of Smoking Devices
In this specific article, when referring to smoking and the benefits of refraining, I am referring mainly to cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and vaping. Most research focuses on these three types of smoking and their impact on health.
There are many other devices available for the purpose of inhaling substances however. They include the following:
- hand pipes
- bongs and bubblers (water pipes)
- dab rigs
- vaporizers/vape pens/electronic cigarette
All of these devices can be made to deliver nicotine and nicotine-free substances for inhalation.
Smoking Myths Revealed
Before we get into the many benefits, let’s clear the air about a few smoking myths.
Using Nicotine-Free Vape Cartridges is Better For You
This one’s completely false.
It’s important to note that even though some of vaping cartridges contain no nicotine, they are not risk-free. E-cigarettes may contain a chemical called diacetyl. This is a flavoring agent for the liquid in e-cigarettes that often gives them a sweet, fruity, or dessert-like flavoring. Some examples are funnel cake, berry lemonade, and gummy bear. Sound great? Well, diacetyl is know to cause severe respiratory diseases, including bronchiolitis obliterans. Some other chemicals present in e-cigarettes include:
- carbonyl compounds
- fine particulate matter
- metals, like nickel, tin, and lead
- propylene glycol
- and other additives
So you see, even if these inhalation devices have no nicotine, they do have other chemicals that may effect your health. And there are few studies conducted on the safety of these ingredients in terms of vaping.
The FDA is well aware of the dangers along with the significant increase in over the past few years of middle- and high school aged children who are smoking. In effect, they began enforcing a policy to prevent unauthorized production of flavor-based e-cartridges that may appeal to children in 2020. Unfortunately despite the FDA’s ban, today they are still widely available online and in retail stores.
Using a Water Bong Is Better for You
That’s another big fat no.
The thought here is that bubbling the smoke through water, as in a bong or hookah, supposedly reduces the amount of toxins you would otherwise inhale from smoking a cigarette. This however, is completely false.
The fact is that smoke from water pipes still contain high levels of toxic chemicals, even after being bubbled though water. In addition to this, most hookah sessions last much longer than smoking a traditional cigarette. For example, in a one-hour session, you may be breathing in 100-200 times the amount of smoke that a cigarette smoker normally would.
One report on cannabis bong smoking, from the Journal of the American Medical Association, states that inhaling smoke from bongs produces 4 times the harmful chemicals in the air versus cigarette smoking. This particular matter can linger in the air for up to 12 hours after a session has ended!
Using Herbal Cigarettes Are Better for You
Sorry guys, this is also a no.
Although herbal cigarettes can be nicotine-free and tobacco-free, they are still just as harmful as smoking tobacco cigarettes. You are still inhaling tar and carbon monoxide.
The damage due to smoke exposure from herbal and nicotine-free cigarettes is also similar to cigarettes containing tobacco and nicotine. One study shows that the same type of DNA damage occurs when smoking herbal cigarettes, which could lead to lung cancer.
Health Consequences of Smoking and Secondhand Smoke
The fact that smoke and secondhand smoke is harmful to your health is a no-brainer. And there are years of research to back up the claims. Here, I discuss a few of the health consequences of smoking. And yes, these life-altering outcomes may also be a result of secondhand and thirdhand smoke.
Exposure to Harmful Chemicals
It’s reported that cigarettes contain 7,000 chemicals. There are a few main ones that tend to stand out. For example, nicotine is the main chemical, which gets you addicted. But some of the other hazardous chemicals that you breathe in with each puff include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Hydrogen cyanide
According to the American Cancer Society, at least 70 of these chemicals are cancer-causing. They may even contain radioactive materials which come from the fertilizer and soil used to grow the tobacco.
So, considering exposure to these harmful chemicals, refraining from smoking can 100% benefit an individual’s health.
Changes in Brain Function
Smoking may also damage the area of your brain responsible for thinking skills including memory and learning.
One study shows that the cerebral cortex in the brain was thinner and contained less gray and white matter in smokers versus non-smokers. This is what leads to declines in brain function. The study also mentions smoking as a possible cause of depression and cognitive diseases including Alzheimer’s and other dementias.
Continue to smoke and you may also notice a rapid decline in your physical appearance, specifically your skin.
Studies show that smoking tobacco impairs the production of collagen and increases the production of substances called tropoelastin and matrix metalloproteinases (MMP). This increase in MMP is not a good thing. It prevents you from producing collagen and elastin fibers in your skin which leads to premature aging.
Smoking also deprives your skin of oxygen and other nutrients. This leads to an uneven skin tone or pale appearance.
Damage to Lungs and Heart
When you smoke, you are damaging the airways in your lungs, causing inflammation. If you continue to do this, you’ll develop scar tissue over time.
You are also damaging the tiny air sacs in your lungs, called alveoli, that allow oxygen exchange. If these are damaged, they don’t grow back, leaving permanent damage to your lungs. If this process continues, it leads to a condition called emphysema.
In terms of secondhand smoke exposure, the lungs of those around you are also being harmed.
The airways of children are smaller than adults, so they are more susceptible to health problems such as asthma and bronchitis from secondhand smoke.
Smoking can also permanently damage your heart and blood vessels. This is why smoking is considered a risk factor for heart disease.
According to a publication in Circulation, as many as 30% of all yearly heart disease deaths in the U.S. are attributed to cigarette smoking. And if you have more risk factors for heart disease, smoking adds to this, making your risk significantly higher.
Decreased Vascular Health
In addition, smokers are also at risk for peripheral vascular disease and other vascular issues.
Smoking promotes atherosclerosis, which is the build-up of plaque in your arteries. This plaque build-up leads to stiff arteries and narrow blood vessels. As a result, it is difficult for blood to move throughout your body.
Plaques could also break off and cause a complete blockage in smaller blood vessels.
Smoking also increases formation of blood clots which can block arteries. When this happens, it is called thrombosis.
This decrease in vascularity can result in damage to your heart or brain, and depending on the result, may be permanent.
Increased Nutrient Deficiencies
Smokers are also more likely to be deficient in several nutrients. The most common deficiencies are that of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and beta-carotene.
Research also shows that smoking is associated with decreased levels of:
- B vitamins, including folate and B6
The cause of these deficiencies are mainly related to the oxidative stress and inflammation that results from smoking.
Smoking is also an environmental hazard. The toxic chemicals you emit each time you light up cause air pollution and damage to the atmosphere.
And the cigarette butts are also a hazard. The chemicals from cigarette butts can pollute soil, waterways, and beaches. And the resources needed to produce cigarette papers and the tobacco inside are also detrimental to the environment.
Did you know that one tree is destroyed for every 300 cigarettes made?
Benefits of NOT Smoking
And finally, let’s discuss the many benefits of NOT smoking. Aside from not having to experience any of the above harmful consequences, quitting your smoking habit can improve all areas of your life.
Improved Lung and Heart Function
Refraining from smoking can benefit an individual’s health by improving lung and heart function.
Quitting can drastically improve the health of your blood vessels which benefits your heart. Lung and respiratory function can improve significantly following quitting as well.
After you quit smoking you can expect improvements in:
- blood pressure
- heart rate
- carbon monoxide level in your blood
- the ability of your lungs to clear mucous
Better Sense of Taste and Smell
Refraining from smoking can benefit an individual’s health by allowing better sense of taste and smell.
Chemicals in cigarettes and other smoking devices impair your sense of taste and smell. But after quitting, one of the first things a person may notice is improvement of these senses.
One study states that impairment of your sense of smell can last up to 15 years after quitting for long-time smokers.
Olfactory decline is also said to be an early predictor of cardiovascular disease.
Improved Quality of Sleep
Refraining from smoking can benefit an individual’s health by improving quality of sleep.
Both smoking and vaping expose your system to the addictive stimulant nicotine. Research shows that nicotine disrupts sleep in a variety of ways: According to studies, nicotine suppresses REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the deepest level of sleep.
The American Sleep Association states that smokers take longer to fall asleep and wake up more frequently. This results in waking up feeling tired.
Smoking is also associated with insomnia, the inability to fall asleep and stay asleep.
Less Money Out of Your Pocket
We all know that in times like these, we can’t save enough money. Your smoking habit doesn’t just kill you, it kills your bank account too.
Can you believe that a pack of cigarettes today can range in price from $6.11 to $11.96!? That’s insane! Let’s say we take the average $8.00 a pack and multiply that by 1 pack a week for a year. That’s $416 a year being spent on a habit that you already know is unhealthy.
So instead of taking away from your hard-earned cash, save that extra $416 and take a weekend trip, use it to buy birthday or Christmas presents, or save for something you’ve been wanting to treat yourself with.
Better Smelling Clothes
This benefit also includes a better smelling car, furniture, curtains, or any other object that was subject to your smoke exposure.
As defined earlier, when you smoke, objects around you pick up the toxins found in cigarette smoke. This is called thirdhand smoke. Think of objects like dust, hair, curtains, carpets, area rugs, sheets, blankets, and even walls.
The stale smell from thirdhand smoke can last days, weeks, or years . But thirdhand smoke can also cause smells and discoloration that are permanent.
Thirdhand smoke is just as harmful as first and secondhand smoke because when these objects get moved, the toxins can become suspended in the air and breathed in through your lungs.
The Downside to Quitting Smoking
The benefits of smoking cessation do outweigh the risks although you may experience some unwanted withdrawal symptoms from quitting.
Quitting smoking is one of the hardest unhealthy lifestyle habits to stop. Many people complain of:
- increased appetite
- weight gain
- increased cravings
- trouble sleeping or concentrating
These withdrawal symptoms are what makes it so difficult for people to remain smoke-free. So, in the grand scheme of things, the best thing to do is to not start smoking in the first place.
In the end, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The good news is that the majority of individuals report their withdrawal symptoms vanishing after about two to four weeks of being smoke-free. And in that same amount of time, I’m sure you’ll also notice some of the other benefits discussed above.
Smoking Cessation Resources
If you are contemplating putting down that pack of cigarettes for good, I’m here to tell you that it will be the best decision you’ve ever made. Did you know that your risk for developing serious health issues and overall death lessen drastically once you quit smoking?
Even those who have smoked heavily over many years can benefit from quitting. And if you’ve already had a heart attack, quitting can reduce your chances of another heart attack by 50%.
There are many resources available to help make quitting easier. Maybe you’ve tried quitting cold turkey, switching to e-cigarettes, or chewing gum. The solution to smoking cessation is different for everyone and there isn’t just one answer.
I also strongly encourage you to try any or all of the following resources and suggestions in order to break this habit for good.
In conclusion, you can see that refraining from smoking can benefit an individual’s health in so many ways.
There is no such thing as a “safe smoke”. All forms come with risks. And refraining from smoking does not only benefit you, the individual. It also benefits those around you and your personal items (clothes and household objects).
And besides the health benefits, quitting is better for you financially and prevents environmental decline.
So what are you waiting for? Get to quitting today by checking out the above resources. You got this!
Share With Me: If you used to smoke, what helped you quit for good? Share in the comments below and let others know what worked for you.
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Kiran Campbell is a registered dietitian and entrepreneur with 13 years of experience. She has a degree in psychology as well as dietetitics. She is also a proud member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Cardiovascular Health and Well-being Dietetics Practice Group among others. Kiran is honored to have the opportunity to educate and promote the most up-to-date, science-based nutrition information on all things heart-related. She aims to serve not only individuals with heart disease, but also those wanting to protect against it. Learn more about Kiran by visiting her About Page.