Do you or does someone in your home smoke? Or maybe a friend or family member smokes? Either way, we know that smoking cigarettes isn’t good for our health. In this article, I’ll provide you with more detail as to how refraining from smoking can benefit your overall health.
So if you are contemplating quitting, I’ll explain the many dangerous risks of smoking, the dangers of secondhand smoke and thirdhand smoke, and offer several free and helpful resources to help you “take a stand, not a puff”.
>>Skip to the resources to help you quit smoking<<
Table of Contents
Types of Smoking Devices
Throughout this article, when referring to smoking and the benefits of refraining, I will be referring mainly to cigarettes, e-cigarettes, and vaping devices. Most research focuses on these three forms of smoking and their impact on health.
However, there are many other devices available for the purpose of inhaling substances. They include but are not limited to:
- Hand pipes
- Bongs and bubblers (water pipes)
- Dab rigs
- Vaporizers/vape pens/electronic cigarettes
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 of laying off the smokes, let’s clear the air about a few smoking myths. There are many misconceptions regarding smoking, many of which involve different smoking devices and types of smoking products.
Myth #1: Using Nicotine-Free Vape Cartridges Are Better For You
This one is completely false.
It’s important to note that even though some vaping cartridges contain zero nicotine, they are not risk-free. E-cigarettes may contain a chemical called diacetyl. This is the flavoring agent for the liquid in e-cigarettes that often gives them a sweet, fruity, or dessert-like flavor. Some of these enticing vape flavors include funnel cake, berry lemonade, and gummy bear. Sounds delicious, doesn’t it? Well, this is especially attractive to the younger population. E-cigarette companies have used this marketing tactic to their advantage to successfully combat declining tobacco sales by targeting our youth (1).
But let’s get back to diacetyl. This chemical is known to cause severe respiratory diseases, including bronchiolitis obliterans (AKA “popcorn lung”) (2). It is also the main flavoring agent in microwave popcorn! 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 even if these inhalation devices have no nicotine, they do have other chemicals that can negatively impact your health. And there are very few studies that can confirm the safety of these ingredients.
The FDA is well aware of the dangers along with the significant increase over the past few years of middle- and high-school-aged children who are smoking. In 2020, they began enforcing a policy to prevent the unauthorized production of flavor-based e-cartridges that may appeal to children. Unfortunately, despite the FDA’s ban, flavored e-cigarettes and vape pens are still widely available online and in retail stores.
Myth #2: Using a Water Bong Is Better for You
This is another big fat NO.
The thought here is that bubbling the smoke through water (as in a bong or hookah) reduces the amount of toxins you would otherwise inhale from smoking a cigarette. This is completely false.
In reality, the smoke from water bongs contains high levels of toxic chemicals, even after being bubbled through water. In addition, most hookah sessions last much longer than smoking a traditional cigarette. For example, in one 30-minute hookah session, you are inhaling a higher concentration of heavy chemicals than if you have smoked one cigarette (3). This puts you at high risk of developing pulmonary and cardiovascular disease.
In addition, inhaling smoke from bongs produces four times the harmful chemicals in the air versus cigarette smoking (4). This particular matter can linger in the air for up to 12 hours after a session has ended!
Myth #3: 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. Research shows that the same type of DNA damage occurs when smoking herbal cigarettes, which could lead to lung cancer (5).
Health Risks to NON-Smokers
The fact that smoke and secondhand smoke are harmful to your health is a no-brainer. There are years of research to back up these claims. But like a drunk driver, smokers are putting other people’s lives in jeopardy. These life-altering outcomes come as a result of secondhand and thirdhand smoke.
Secondhand smoke is responsible for about one million global deaths each year (6). And if smokers choose to light up in their own homes or cars, they are exposing other family members, including their children to these harmful chemicals.
Nearly one-quarter (~25%) of smokers report smoking in their homes and personal vehicles (6).
Then there is the residue that is left on surfaces, in clothing, on furniture, and any other exposed items long after smoking is over. This is referred to as thirdhand smoke.
The toxic chemicals from thirdhand smoke can linger on surfaces for weeks to months after smoking (7).
Thirdhand smoke is an underestimated public health issue. It is just as harmful as first and secondhand smoke. When objects exposed to thirdhand smoke get disturbed, the toxins can become suspended in the air and breathed in through your lungs.
There aren’t many human studies related to thirdhand smoke, however, mice studies show an increase in lung cancer development with early exposure to thirdhand smoke (7).
Health Consequences of Smoking
Cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States today (8).
Exposure to Harmful Chemicals
It’s reported that tobacco smoke contains about 7,000 chemicals (6). Nicotine is the main chemical, which gets you addicted. But there are other hazardous and cancer-causing chemicals present. Some of these include:
- Carbon monoxide
- Hydrogen cyanide
According to the American Cancer Society, at least 70 chemicals present in cigarettes are cancer-causing. They may even contain radioactive materials that come from the fertilizer and soil used to grow the tobacco.
Avoiding exposure to these harmful chemicals by refraining from smoking can 100% benefit an individual’s health.
Changes in Brain Function
The cognitive effects of smoking have been debatable. Some studies show that nicotine specifically may improve brain cognition in those with certain medical conditions. These conditions include Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Parkinson’s disease (PD), age-associated memory impairment, schizophrenia, stroke, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (8).
However, the long-term impact of smoking is something to consider. In general, long-term tobacco use 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.
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 oxidative stress can lead to uneven skin tone and premature aging (9).
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.
Your lungs can repair damaged alveoli, but only to a certain extent. If you continue to smoke at a high rate, your lungs cannot repair themselves, leaving permanent damage to your lungs. This is when conditions like COPD and emphysema develop (10).
In terms of secondhand smoke exposure, lung damage to those around you can also lead to these chronic conditions.
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.
Recent research also shows a link between e-cigarette use and heart rhythm dysfunction and cardiac arrest.
If you currently smoke or are a former smoker, this also puts you in greater danger if you contract the COVID-19 virus. Research suggests you have a higher risk of severe symptoms and a greater chance of death compared to non-smokers (11).
Related Article: Myocarditis From COVID: Fact or Fiction?
Decreased Vascular Health
Smokers are also at risk for peripheral vascular disease and other vascular issues.
Smoking promotes atherosclerosis (the build-up of plaque in your arteries). This plaque build-up is the first stage of vascular dysfunction (12). Over time this leads to stiff arteries and narrow blood vessels. As a result, it is difficult for blood to move through your body.
Plaques could also break off and cause a complete blockage in smaller blood vessels.
Smoking also increases the formation of blood clots that can block arteries. When this happens, it is called thrombosis.
This decrease in vascularity can result in damage to your heart or brain and may lead to permanent damage or death.
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.
Other smoking-related vitamin and mineral deficiencies include:
- B vitamins, including folate and B6
The cause of these deficiencies is mainly related to the oxidative stress and inflammation that result from smoking.
Smoking is also an environmental hazard. The toxic chemicals you release each time you light up cause air pollution and damage to the atmosphere.
The cigarette butts are also a hazard. The chemicals from cigarette butts can pollute soil, waterways, and beaches. Additionally, 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
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 immediate health improvements including:
- 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 also improve your sense of taste and smell.
Chemicals in cigarettes and other forms of smoking impair your sense of taste and smell. But after quitting, one of the first things you may notice is an improvement in these senses. However, for some long-time smokers, impairment in your sense of taste and smell could last up to 15 years after quitting (12).
Improved Quality of Sleep
Refraining from smoking can also benefit an individual’s health by improving sleep quality.
Smoking and vaping expose your system to the addictive stimulant nicotine. Research shows that nicotine disrupts sleep in a variety of ways.
Smoking is also associated with a condition called insomnia. Insomnia is the inability to fall asleep or stay asleep.
The American Sleep Association states that smokers take longer to fall asleep and wake up more frequently. This results in waking up feeling tired. This is because nicotine suppresses REM (rapid eye movement) sleep, the deepest level of sleep (13).
Less Money Out of Your Pocket
Your smoking habit doesn’t just kill you, it kills your bank account.
The price of a pack of cigarettes today can range anywhere from $6.11 to $11.96!? That’s outrageous!
Let’s use the average cost of $8.00 per pack. If you smoke one pack a week for one year, this is a loss of $416 per year to your smoking habit.
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 toxins found in cigarette 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.
The Downside to Quitting Smoking
The benefits of smoking cessation 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 make it so difficult for people to remain smoke-free. The severity and longevity of your withdrawal symptoms will depend on how long and how much you smoked. In the grand scheme of things, the best thing to do is to not start smoking in the first place.
The majority of individuals report that withdrawal symptoms vanish after two to four weeks of being smoke-free. In that amount of time, you may also notice some of the 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 have ever made. Your risk of developing serious health issues and overall death lessens drastically the minute 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% (13).
There are many resources available to help make quitting easier. The solution to smoking cessation is different for everyone and there isn’t just one answer.
This program highlights actual individuals dealing with severe health problems caused by smoking and breathing in secondhand smoke. It also shares moving stories from family members who look after their loved ones suffering from smoking-related illnesses or disabilities. Since 2012, over one million individuals have successfully quit smoking. The campaign has helped save countless lives and saved billions of dollars in smoking-related healthcare costs.
I encourage you to download the following infographic with more helpful resources to break your habit for good.
In conclusion, quitting or refraining from smoking can benefit an individual’s health in many ways.
There is no such thing as “safe smoke”. All forms of tobacco come with health risks. And the risks are not limited to just you. Refraining from smoking benefits everyone around you. It even keeps your personal items (clothes and household objects) from collecting harmful carcinogens related to thirdhand smoke.
Quitting is also better for you financially and prevents environmental decline.
So what are you waiting for? Get the support you need and start your journey to a smoke-free life today. You got this!
>>Don’t forget to download the free PDF to help you quit smoking!
Related Articles: 5 Things You Can Do To Support Heart Health NOW!
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Kiran Campbell is a registered dietitian and entrepreneur with 14 years of experience. She also has a Bachelor’s degree in psychology and is a proud member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the Cardiovascular Health and Well-being Dietetics Practice Group. Kiran proudly presents and promotes 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.