Writer: Dhakshayini Suresh
What is Smoking?
Smoking is the act of inhaling and exhaling the fumes of burning plant material. A variety of plant materials are smoked, including marijuana and hashish, but the act is most commonly associated with tobacco as smoked in a cigarette, cigar, or pipe. Tobacco contains nicotine, an alkaloid that is addictive. Nicotine and other chemicals in tobacco smoke are easily absorbed into the blood through the lungs. From there, nicotine quickly spreads throughout the body. This can have both stimulating and tranquilizing psychoactive effects.
What are the different methods that people use to smoke?
Cigarettes - It is the most common way of smoking, especially for those in the demographic category of the 1970s born and beyond. Peer pressure, social image, and other factors may play a role in one smoking their first cigarette, and the resulting addiction is difficult to give up on. There are filtered cigarettes and others with low levels of nicotine, as well as rolled cigarettes either in white paper or brown paper (tobacco paper). They come with regular tastes while others are sweetened with several flavors.
Cigars or Pipes - Despite what many popularly believe, the smoking of cigars and/or pipes is just as harmful to one’s health as smoking cigarettes. One cigar on average has more nicotine and tar than a pack of cigarettes and one large size cigar has 40 times the nicotine and tar found in one cigarette. The toxic substances are in fact far more concentrated in these instruments and the carcinogens found in cigars are in fact very harmful to the body, even in small amounts.
Shishas and Hookahs - It is commonly thought that smoking shisha and hookah can be less harmful than cigarettes, but the truth is that one shisha is equivalent to 50 to 60 cigarettes, and a two hour to three hour session of smoking a shisha is equivalent to smoking 25 cigarettes. Shisha are also a minimal source of air pollution as they spread smoke and toxic gases like carbon monoxide and are contaminated with pesticides, heavy metals and mycotoxins.
Storing/Chewing Tobacco - Essentially- smoking without smoke. The person chews the tobacco – mixed with other ingredients – in their mouth for a sustained period of time where the juice from the tobacco is absorbed to the bloodstream and hence to the rest of the body. The effects on the body are much the same as smoking. The user can also store it in the mouth cavity without chewing for the same result. This way of consuming tobacco is no less dangerous than smoking.
Known Health Risks in Correlated with Smoking
More than 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking. For every person who dies because of smoking, at least 30 people live with a serious smoking-related illness.
Physical withdrawal impairs cognitive functions, making one feel irritated, anxious, and/or depressed. It also causes headaches and insomnia issues.
When you inhale smoke, you’re taking in substances that can damage your lungs. Along with increased infections, people who smoke are at higher risk for chronic irreversible lung conditions such as chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, and emphysema, among many others.
Nicotine causes blood vessels to tighten, which restricts the flow of blood. Over time, the ongoing narrowing, along with damage to the blood vessels, can cause peripheral artery disease. Smoking also increases blood pressure and blood clots, thus also raising the risk of strokes.
The more obvious signs of smoking involve skin changes, leading to wrinkles and stretch marks. Substances in tobacco smoke actually change the structure of your skin. Smoking also increases fungal nail infections, hair loss, balding, and greying.
Smoking increases the risk of mouth, throat, larynx, and esophagus cancer. Smokers also have higher rates of pancreatic cancer. It also increases the risk of Type 2 Diabetes.
One effect of smoking is reduced oxygen supply to the cochlea, a snail-shaped organ in the inner ear. This may result in permanent damage to the cochlea and mild to moderate hearing loss.
Smoking increases your risk of developing cataracts and macular degeneration (both can lead to blindness).
Smoking increases the cholesterol and unhealthy fats circulating in the blood, leading to unhealthy fatty deposits.
Smokers' lungs experience inflammation in the small airways and tissues of your lungs. This can make your chest feel tight or cause you to wheeze or feel short of breath.
Smoking lowers a female’s level of estrogen. Low estrogen levels can cause dry skin, thinning hair, and memory problems.
New Link Between Smoking and Subarachnoid Hemorrhages
An investigation of the Finnish Twin Cohort reaffirmed a link between smoking and subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH), a type of bleeding stroke that occurs under the membrane that covers the brain and is frequently fatal. The new study by researchers in Finland is published today in Stroke, a journal of the American Stroke Association, a division of the American Heart Association. In a 2010 study of nearly 80,000 twins from Denmark, Finland and Sweden, results suggested that SAH had more to do with external risk factors and very little to do with genetic influence. Twins share either all or half their genes (identical vs. fraternal) so they are valuable for studies designed to evaluate the role of genetics versus environmental factors in disease development. Researchers identified 120 fatal bleeding stroke events among the twins, and the strongest link for a fatal brain bleed was found among smokers. Smoking was associated with fatal bleeding in the brain consistently in both men and women and with bleeding stroke deaths within twin pairs where only one of the twins died from a SAH.
Ongoing Areas of Research in Smoking
Understanding how tobacco products and changes to tobacco product characteristics* affect their potential to cause morbidity and mortality.
Differences in dependence and tobacco use patterns with use of low nicotine content cigarettes in context with other tobacco products
Biomarkers to assess short- and long-term effects of non-cigarette tobacco products
Effectiveness of text and graphic warnings for tobacco products other than cigarettes
The smoking epidemic accounts for about 480,000 deaths per year in the United State alone. Several scientists, including those mentioned in the study, are attempting to find ways that are far more effective in treating this disease in a more permanent manner. This new discovery is an imperative advancement in the smoking crisis and brings us one step closer to a new treatment for this problem.
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Pietrangelo, A. (2019, February 21). The Effects of Smoking on the Body. Healthline. https://www.healthline.com/health/smoking/effects-on-body#Sexuality-and-reproductive-system
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smoking | Definition, Types, Effects, History, & Facts. (2019, December 5). Encyclopedia Britannica. https://www.britannica.com/topic/smoking-tobacco
Smoking linked to bleeding in the brain in large, long-term study of twins. (2020, September 17). ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/09/200917084557.htm
Why People Start Using Tobacco, and Why It’s Hard to Stop. (2015, November 13). American Cancer Society. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/why-people-start-using-tobacco.html