The Downside of Lighting Up
Part 1 of 2

When Alex started smoking, his family disapproved, as he knew they would. His mother lectured him about his health, of course, but her curiosity dominated the conversation, “So why did you start?” she wanted to know. Although his apartment mate had convinced him to try it, Alex opted to keep his explanation simple, “I enjoy it,” he told his mother.  “It helps me relax.”

Let’s Clear the Air

Alex knew all about the risks of smoking. How could he not know? His parents had drummed the facts into him since he was a kid. The warnings are visible on every cigarette package and magazine ad. His first cigarette had even tasted disgusting to him. And yet he had chosen to smoke. Why? Why does anyone make that choice? 

Take a look at some of the following reasons people start smoking. If you’re a smoker, which reasons influenced your decision to start?

  • Acceptance.  When your friends or colleagues smoke and encourage you to participate, it may seem beneficial to join them. You want to be accepted, and sharing a common activity naturally maintains connections. Smokers tend to form strong social bonds as they gather in designated smoking areas at work, school, or in other public environments, or as they retreat from a larger group to share a smoke. 
  • Image.  How do you want others to perceive you? For some people, smoking projects a certain image. The desire to appear cool, tough, daring, or attractive may result in the choice to take up the habit.
  • Curiosity.  Maybe you just wondered how it tasted or felt to smoke a cigarette.
  • Parents.  If you grew up watching your parents smoke, you’re twice as likely to become a smoker by age 21, according to the online news source, Medical News Today. As in most cases, children tend to practice what parents do more than what they say.
  • Media influence.  The positive portrayal of smoking in movies, television and on the internet continues to influence young minds. Although much of it may be subconscious, the examples set by actors, sports figures, and other celebrities often speaks just as loudly as parental example. The National Institutes of Health reports that adolescents with high exposure to smoking in movies “are about three times as likely to try smoking or become smokers” compared to those with a low exposure.
  • Weight control.  Some people start or resume smoking in order to control body weight. An article in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition explains that the nicotine in cigarettes does cause your body to expend more energy, thus raising your metabolism. And, as many believe, it possibly does decrease your appetite. So, smokers do tend to weigh less. (You’ve probably heard former smokers complain that they gained weight after they stopped smoking.) 
  • Stress relief.  One college student admitted she started smoking simply to relieve some anxiety. Her grades were falling and the end-of-semester pressures were building up. Despite the fact that she was afraid it might affect her performance on the track team, she decided to give it a try. 

So, why did you make the choice? Your reasons don’t matter once you’ve started. The blunt truth is that, deep inside, you probably know you shouldn’t smoke. Smoking really doesn’t make sense when you take an honest look at the disadvantages. 

Smoking Damages Your Body

The effects of smoking begin immediately. After inhaling that first puff of smoke, it takes a mere 10 seconds for the nicotine drug to get to your brain, explain experts at the Cancer Research UK. As a stimulant, it raises your heart rate and blood pressure, and is just as addicting as other drugs such as heroin or cocaine. The long-term effects, however, seem most convincing….

  • Respiratory system.  Do you enjoy breathing? Most of us do! But smoking can make it more difficult. It damages the entire respiratory system—the windpipe, the bronchi branching off the windpipe, and the small air sacs inside the lungs, called alveoli.  Many times, long-term smoking leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). This term describes a group of diseases that includes bronchitis (which injures the bronchi) and emphysema (which damages the air sacs). If you have asthma (another form of COPD), smoking will probably make it much worse. And, of course, lung cancer often results directly from smoking…. 

In an attempt to make his mother feel better about his decision to smoke, one young man added, “And good news, once you stop, your lungs will regenerate.” Yes, according to experts, the cilia in your lungs do begin to regenerate when you stop smoking, and your risk for lung cancer will have dropped by half after 10 years. 

That’s good news for former smokers. But it’s hardly a logical reason to feel good about starting! Even after 10 years, your risk is still greater than if you’d never smoked in the first place, say experts from Harvard Medical School. Your risk might eventually equal that of a non-smoker if you quit when you are young enough. In that case, why even start at all? Why take the risk of getting addicted and of not finding the willpower to stop? 

  • Heart.  When you smoke, your risk for coronary heart disease and stroke rises dramatically. As your blood vessels thicken and grow narrower, your heart must work harder and your blood pressure goes up. Even if you smoke fewer than five cigarettes a day, you can begin to show early signs of heart disease, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
  • More organ damage. In addition to the heart and lungs, the CDC notes that smoking damages almost every organ in the body and can lead to cancer in many areas, including…
    • Bladder
    • Blood
    • Cervix
    • Colon and rectum
    • Esophagus
    • Kidney and ureter
    • Larynx
    • Liver
    • Throat, tongue, tonsils
    • Pancreas
    • Stomach
  • Bones.  Smoking tends to weaken bones, especially as you get older, increasing your risk of fractures and breaks.
  • Eyes.  If you want to preserve your eyesight as you age, then smoking would not be your best option. Continue to smoke and you’ll be increasing your risk for cataracts and age-related macular degeneration.
  • Teeth and gums. Obviously, any kind of tobacco use will directly affect your oral health. WebMD lists a myriad of dental problems caused by smoking, including gum disease, tooth discoloration, loss of jawbone, and, of course, oral cancer.
  • Pregnancy.  Smoking while pregnant harms not only you but your baby, as well. Your chances of an ectopic pregnancy will rise and so will your chances of having a stillbirth, explains the CDC. Your baby will tend to have a low birth-weight and you’ll increase his chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. 

And speaking of babies…if you’re a male and you want to be a father, you probably should pass on the tobacco, since smoking reduces your fertility.

  • Other conditions and diseases. Yes, there’s more. Smoking is one cause of both type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. It also causes inflammation throughout your body and weakens your immune function, which can lead to many illnesses. And although light smoking can help you control your weight, smoking heavily seems to be associated with weight gain. (Besides, don’t you think you could find healthier ways to lose weight?)
  • Death.  No one likes to think about it. But if you’re going to smoke, you should really think about it carefully.  Smoking causes 90% of lung cancer deaths and 80% of deaths from COPD. Those CDC statistics probably didn’t shock you, but this cheery bit of news may surprise you a little: Smoking will increase your risk of death from all causes.  One-third to one-half of long-term smokers die as a result of their addiction, says the National Center for Biotechnology Information.

If bodily damage isn’t convincing enough, think about a few other ways that smoking might damage your life.

Smoking Damages Your Finances

According to the American Lung Association, the average price of a pack of cigarettes in the U.S. is $5.51. So let’s say you are an average smoker, smoking one-half pack a day. You would spend roughly $84 per month. That’s a little more than $1,000 per year! And, of course, if you smoke one whole pack a day, just double those amounts. You can probably think of a few ways to spend an extra $2,000 a year!

Smoking Damages Your Social Life

Although many people start smoking precisely for social reasons, they don’t seem to realize that this choice can backfire— and probably will. If you smoke around people who have an allergy to smoke, people who worry about second-hand smoke, or people who are merely bothered by it, they will avoid you.

Romantically speaking, plenty of men and women won’t take a second look at a smoker. Of course, some people don’t seem to mind, many of whom are probably smokers, themselves. But do you really want to limit your dating options? 

What do you do when you’re at a concert, in a restaurant, or in some other public place, and the urge strikes? The “No Smoking” sign warns you not to light up. You’ll either have to leave and miss part of the fun or suppress the urge.

And then there’s the “yuck factor”—you know—smelly clothes, smelly car, smelly breath….

Smoking Damages Your Time

When asked if the habit of smoking had been inconvenient, one man replied, “No. Life is inconvenient when you smoke.”  This 49-year-old former smoker realized he needed to quit when he saw that his whole schedule revolved around getting his next smoke and his next pack of cigarettes. Even if you smoke in order to reduce stress, you may actually create more stress when it becomes this time-consuming.

Did you know there’s an entire website dedicated to the pleasures of smoking? The forums on this site include comments by people who claim to be happy about their addiction, even though they admit their whole lives revolve around it.  As humans, we’re only given so much time; how sad to waste it on a harmful, completely unnecessary habit.

Perhaps you look at a middle aged or older adult who smokes and you think, Look at him; he’s been smoking for years and he’s fine. Is he? 

Why don’t you ask him? Ask him if he thinks he made a good choice.

Written by Beth Prassel-Sieg


Part 2:

Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved

A healthy outside starts from the inside. Robert Urich