Major diseases caused by smoking
Cardiovascular disease is the main cause of death due to smoking. Hardening of the arteries is a process that develops over years, when cholesterol and other fats deposit in the arteries, leaving them narrow, blocked or rigid. When the arteries narrow (atherosclerosis), blood clots are likely to form.
Smoking accelerates the hardening and narrowing process in your arteries and blood clots are two to four times more likely.
Smokers are more likely to get cancer than non-smokers. This is particularly true of lung cancer, throat cancer and mouth cancer, which hardly ever affect non-smokers.
The link between smoking and lung cancer is clear.
- Ninety percent of lung cancer cases are due to smoking.
- If no-one smoked, lung cancer would be a rare diagnosis - only 0.5 per cent of people who've never touched a cigarette develop lung cancer.
- One in ten moderate smokers and almost one in five heavy smokers (more than 15 cigarettes a day) will die of lung cancer.
The more cigarettes you smoke in a day, and the longer you've smoked, the higher your risk of lung cancer. Similarly, the risk rises the deeper you inhale and the earlier in life you started smoking.
For ex-smokers, it takes approximately 15 years before the risk of lung cancer drops to the same as that of a non-smoker.
If you smoke, the risk of contracting mouth cancer is also four times higher than for a non-smoker. Cancer can start in many areas of the mouth, with the most common being on or underneath the tongue, or on the lips.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a collective term for a group of conditions that block airflow and make breathing more difficult, such as:
- Emphysema - breathlessness caused by damage to the air sacs within the lungs
- Chronic Bronchitis - coughing with a lot of mucus that continues for at least three months.
Smoking is the most common cause of COPD and is responsible for 80% of cases.
It's estimated that 94% of 20-a-day smokers have some emphysema when the lungs are examined after death, while more than 90% of non-smokers have little or none.
COPD typically starts between the ages of 35 and 45 when lung function starts to decline anyway. In smokers, the rate of decline in lung function can be three times the usual rate. As lung function declines, breathlessness begins.
Other risks caused by smoking
- Smoking raises blood pressure - a risk factor for heart attacks and stroke.
- Couples who smoke are more likely to have fertility problems than couples who are non-smokers.
- Smoking worsens asthma and counteracts asthma medication by worsening the inflammation of the airways that the medicine tries to ease.
- Smoking stains your teeth and gums.
- Smoking causes an acid taste in the mouth and contributes to the development of ulcers.
- Smoking also affects your looks: smokers have paler skin and more wrinkles. This is because smoking reduces the blood supply to the skin and lowers levels of vitamin A.