Cigarette smoke contains many substances which can damage the lungs. The smoke has two parts: tiny solid pieces which contain tar, and the gas, which contains carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxides. Smoking takes these poisonous substances directly into your lungs. The filters in most cigarettes are of some benefit, but they still let most of the harmful chemicals into your lungs.
The dangers of smoking
The tar in cigarette smoke damages cells in the airways of your lungs. Eventually this damage can produce cells that grow uncontrollably - leading to cancer of the lung or voice box (larynx).
Because of this, your body sends protecting cells to your lungs to try and defend them, but cigarette smoke destroys them. The dead cells then release substances that damage the structure of the lung. This leads to COPD.
Cigarette smoke also releases substances into your bloodstream that damage other organs. The arteries can be affected in your heart, brain and other places. This can lead to angina, heart attacks, strokes and poor circulation. It also increases your chances of developing cancer in other areas of the body, such as the gullet or bladder.
Passive smokers inhale smoke breathed in and out by smokers. They also breathe in the smoke from the burning tips of cigarettes. This smoke contains more of the harmful chemicals than the smoke which has passed through the cigarette filter.
Passive smoking often troubles non-smokers, especially if they have asthma or other lung problems.
Children growing up with parents who smoke are more likely to develop lung problems. The risk of sudden death in young children is also increased when their parents smoke. There is a small increase in the risk of lung cancer in non- smokers who are in close contact with smokers for a long time.
The benefits of stopping
The sooner you stop, the less likely it is that your lungs and other organs will be damaged. Symptoms such as coughing can get better within days or weeks. If COPD has started to develop, stopping smoking will prevent further damage. Continuing to smoke causes a steady increase in shortness of breath. This limits your activity and increases the risks of lung and heart failure. It is never too late to think about stopping.
The risk of lung cancer increases the more you smoke, and the longer you smoke. Once you stop, the risk of lung cancer starts to go down. After ten years off cigarettes, the risk is halved compared to the risk if you had continued smoking.
Whilst some people go through life unaffected by smoking, millions do not. Too many people think 'It will never happen to me' - until they develop cancer or have their first heart attack.
Stopping smoking can be very difficult, but many smokers find it easier than expected. More and more people are managing to quit the habit. Most smokers are addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes and may have withdrawal symptoms such as craving, irritability, depression and loss of concentration.
The severity of withdrawal symptoms can be reduced by using nicotine replacement therapies (NRT), such as nicotine patches, chewing gum, lozenges, spray, inhalator or tablets. These can provide 'clean' nicotine and are much safer than smoking cigarettes. They should be used for about six weeks, then stopped, and are available from your chemist or on prescription from your Doctor. Clinical trials have shown that, if you want to stop smoking, using a nicotine product nearly doubles your chance of success.