Why is smoking so bad for you?
Learn more about smoking and how it affects your health
Written by spunout
Fact checked by experts and reviewed by young people.
Experts define smoking as the inhalation of smoke from burning tobacco. We’ve all seen people do it, so we have a fairly good idea about how it works.
What you might not know though, is that tobacco contains an addictive psychoactive drug called nicotine, which is harmful to your mind and body.
If you vape rather than smoke tobacco, you are still taking nicotine into your body.
What’s actually in my cigarette?
There are thousands of different chemicals in cigarettes and many of them cause cancer. These include:
Tar is a sticky substance that collects in the lungs, causing respiratory diseases and cancers.
Carbon Monoxide is a poisonous gas which limits the amount of oxygen that the red blood cells in our bodies carry.
- Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances in the world. Scientists have argued that it may be more addictive than heroin or cocaine.
- Nicotine is poisonous and has been used in the past as an insecticide
- It is inhaled into the lungs, passes into the bloodstream and reaches the brain in about 10 -20 seconds
- Nicotine addiction can occur very quickly and it is because of this that smokers continue to smoke, many for the rest of their lives
- Nicotine addiction can worsen your mental health, make you anxious, and effect the quality of your sleep
There are more than 4,000 other chemicals in cigarettes, many of which are cancer causing.
These include arsenic (poison), ammonia (toilet cleaner), acetone (nail polish remover), butane (lighter fuel), methanol (rocket fuel), DDT (insecticide), polonium 210 (radioactive fallout) and cadium (car battery fuel).
Why is smoking so bad for me?
In Ireland, around 100 people die each week from smoking related illnesses. That’s more than 5,000 a year. Cigarette smoke has an affect on nearly every organ in the body, causes many diseases and has a negative impact on your mental health and your health in general.
When you smoke your body takes in a lot more than just nicotine. Cigarette smoke is packed with additional toxic chemicals including tar and carbon monoxide.
If it’s so bad for me, why do so many people smoke?
People may smoke for any number of reasons:
- Some are curious about it and want to give it a try
- Others may take up smoking because they see friends or others doing it, this is called peer pressure
- People who come from a family of smokers, or who grow up around smoking and second hand smoke, will be more likely to smoke and be addicted to smoking
- Some see smoking as a way to relieve their feelings of stress or anxiety in social situations
- People often smoke because they’re used to a culture of social smoking, especially in people smoking on a night out or in smoking areas.
Check out this award-winning ad from Thailand, which reveals that smokers had something rather interesting to say when two kids asked them for a light.
What will happen to my health if I smoke?
In the short term:
- Nicotine will effect your sleep quality, mood and appetite
- Your mental health suffers and you can experience increased levels of irritability and anxiety brought on by constant nicotine withdrawal
- Smoking effects the quality of your skin, hair and teeth
- Smoking effects your sports performance – you won’t be able to exercise as well or for as long
- Smoking can have negative health effects for people who are on the contraceptive pill (birth control pill)
In the long term:
- Can cause a brain stroke
- Mouth cancer
- Throat cancer
- Lung cancer
- Short wind sickness
- Stomach cancer and stomach ulcer
- Kidney and bladder cander
- Cervix, ovary and uterus cancers
- Blocked arteries
- Weak bones
- Diabetes complications
Remember, social smokers (people who only smoke in social situations) and passive smokers (people who don’t smoke but end up inhaling someone else’s second-hand smoke) are also at risk. There is no safe number of cigarettes to smoke and no safe level of cigarette smoke to take in from others.
What can I do?
Here are some things to keep in mind when it comes to smoking
Well if you don’t smoke, that’s great! Our best advice to you is don’t start. That way, you’ll never have the problem of trying to quit.
Avoid second hand smoke
Make the choice to quit
If you do smoke, consider quitting. It’s a brilliant thing to do, and it will hugely benefit your health and well-being. Remember, there is plenty of help and support available. Check out our article on quitting smoking for tips on how to quit.
Benefits of quitting
- The health benefits start right away when you quit smoking
- Straight away, you will have fresher breath, hair and clothes
- Straight away, you will have more money in your pocket
- Within 20 minutes blood pressure and pulse rate begin to return to normal and circulation will improve
- Within 1 day the carbon monoxide level in your blood will drop and the oxygen level will go up
- Within 2 days you will have a better sense of taste and smell
- Within 3 days you will feel fitter and less breathless
- Within one year the risk of sudden death from a heart attack is almost cut in half
- Your risk of cancer is also reduced
Get help and support to QUIT smoking
- Visit Quit.ie for tips on how to stop smoking.
- Call the Quitline on Freephone 1800 201 203 to talk to someone who understands and can help you quit.
- Head to the Quit.ie Facebook page to read stories from others who have quit smoking and to share your own.
- Check out SpunOut’s articles about giving up cigarettes.
Disclaimer: There is more than one way to quit smoking. You may need to try a few different things to find what is right for you. For advice and support on quitting, visit SpunOut.ie/QUIT