Those who smoke don’t often think about what is really in the product they’re consuming. Certainly, there is tobacco, but the number and kinds of things added to tobacco to make it more “pleasant” to use might surprise you.
So, here is the 4-1-1- on tobacco smoke:
• Cyanide – a deadly poison
• Arsenic – another deadly poison
• Benzene – a colorless, highly flammable solvent used in gasoline
• Formaldehyde – a colorless, flammable, chemical used in building products. Formaldehyde is commonly used as an industrial fungicide, germicide, and disinfectant, and as a preservative in mortuaries and medical laboratories.
• Methanol – an organic solvent
• Acetone – a chemical used to remove nail polish
• Ammonia – a cleaning product
• Carbon monoxide – a poison gas
• Nitrogen oxide – another poison gas
• Tar – the partially burned remnants of tobacco that lodge in the throat and lungs, turning fingers and teeth yellow and coating everything it comes into contact with
• Radioactive materials
• Fertilizers – used in growing tobacco
And let’s not forget nicotine, the addictive drug that keeps people coming back for more even though they know – and their bodies keep reminding them – that tobacco use is making them sick.
All in all, researchers have found more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke and have identified at least 70 of then as cancer-causing.
There is no doubt – smoking causes cancer
Smoking accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the U.S. It is responsible for 87 percent of lung cancer deaths in men and 70 percent in women.
Smoking also causes cancers of the nasopharynx (upper throat), nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, lip, larynx (voice box), mouth, pharynx (throat), esophagus (swallowing tube), and bladder. It also has been linked to the development of cancers of the pancreas, cervix, ovary, colorectum, kidney, stomach, and some types of leukemia.
Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chew, snuff and all types of smokeless tobacco cause cancer. There is no safe way to use tobacco.
How does tobacco smoke affect the lungs?
Damage to the lungs begins early in smokers and results in a lower level of lung function in comparison to non-smokers of the same age. As long as a person smokes, lung function continues to worsen. Although the damage builds up over time, it can take years, before the functional decline is begins to impair day-to-day activities.
And while lung cancer is a terrible diagnosis, smoking causes other diseases that can be extremely debilitating and life threatening. This includes:
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
COPD includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema and affects more than 12 million people in the U.S. Another 12 million may have the disease and not be aware of it because they don’t know the signs and symptoms of the disease.
COPD is the third-leading cause of death in the U.S. Not surprisingly, smoking is the main risk factor for COPD – smoking causes nearly 90 percent of COPD deaths. There is no cure for COPD.
COPD most often starts unnoticed in young smokers, and gets far worse before it’s diagnosed. Noises in the chest (such as wheezing, rattling, or whistling), shortness of breath during activity, and coughing up mucus are some of the early signs.
Over time, COPD can make it hard to breathe even at rest, limiting the patient’s day-to-day activities. In late stages, it makes people gasp for breath and feel as if they are drowning. Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock of Star Trek, died of end-stage COPD in February.
Chronic bronchitis is diagnosed as a cough that occurs every day with sputum production that lasts for at least three months, two years in a row.
A type of COPD, in chronic bronchitis, the bronchi (airways) develop chronic inflammation and excess mucus production. The inflammation changes the lining of the cells in the airways and the cilia, which help keep the airways clear, cease to function properly. While symptoms can improve at times, the cough always returns.
There’s no cure for chronic bronchitis, but quitting smoking can help keep symptoms under control and help prevent future damage.
Smoking is also the major cause of emphysema, the other type of COPD, which slowly destroys a person’s ability to breathe. Oxygen gets into the blood by moving across a large surface area in the lungs. Normally, thousands of tiny sacs make up this surface. In emphysema, the walls between the sacs break down and create larger but fewer sacs. This decreases the lung surface area, which lowers the amount of oxygen reaching the blood. Over time, the lung surface area can become so small that a person with emphysema must work very hard to get enough air, even when at rest.
Signs of late emphysema may include a cough that doesn’t go away (which is often dismissed as “smoker’s cough”), shortness of breath even when lying down, feeling tired, and weight loss. People with emphysema are at risk for many other problems linked to weak lung function, including pneumonia. In later stages of the disease, patients can only breathe comfortably with the help of an oxygen tube under the nose.
Emphysema cannot be cured or reversed, but it can be treated and slowed down if the person stops smoking.
Smoking-related illness and cancers can limit a person’s daily life by making it harder to breathe, get around, work, or play. Quitting smoking, especially at younger ages, can reduce smoking-related disability.
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