Cigarettes contain over 4,000 types of harmful chemicals and substances, while over 60 of these have the potential to cause cancer. The more cigarettes a person smokes, and the longer the period for which the person continuously smokes, the greater the chances of developing deadly diseases, such as cancer, emphysema, pneumonia, coronary artery disease and diabetes.
Statistically, lung cancer is the second most common form of cancer affecting Thai men and the fourth most common form among Thai women. Lung cancer is also by far the leading cause of cancer deaths due to this form of the disease usually only being identified once it has spread to other vital organs. Smoking is one of the leading causes of this condition.
Moreover, the toxic chemicals found in cigarette smoke increase the risk of all forms of cancer, including breast cancer, esophageal cancer, stomach cancer and colon cancer.
Those most at risk – as well as people who smoke two or more packs of cigarettes a day for 15 years – should undergo a chest X-ray or low-dose CT chest scan to screen for lung cancer. When identified during its initial stages, it is possible to successfully treat the disease.
Our lungs contain millions of tiny air sacs that are responsible for hemodialysis and transferring oxygen into the bloodstream. When someone smokes for an extended period of time, the chemicals contained in cigarette smoke damage the air sac walls, thereby causing inflammation and tearing. This means the air sac walls are unable to carry out hemodialysis, which leads to an oxygen deficiency and that person often feeling breathless.
Patients suffering from emphysema may also experience palpitations, a sudden loss of weight and depression, all of which could affect their daily lives. Severe emphysema can cause great torment to the sufferer, due to the likelihood of becoming so tired as to render the patient bedridden. Some patients will require oxygen at all times. Therefore, where smokers experience continuous bouts of shallow breathing or breathlessness, they should attend a doctor’s appointment in order to undergo detailed screening before the condition deteriorates.
Pneumonia refers to inflammation of the lungs, which is a condition that can be caused by the following two factors: inflammation resulting from viral, bacterial or fungal infections, and inflammation resulting from the inhalation of harmful substances into the respiratory system, such as dust and chemicals, especially cigarette smoke. The symptoms include difficulty breathing and feeling uncomfortable, while some cases may start with a fever or symptoms similar to the common cold, such as a headache, shivers, cough and a sore throat. In severe cases, patients may experience chest pain, dyspnea or severe cough with blood in their phlegm.
Pneumonia tends to affect infants, the elderly and people with a weak immune system. Particularly severe cases can result in death, meaning those people who are categorized as high risk should avoid all forms of cigarette smoke, including passive smoking.
The toxins found in cigarette smoke can cause arrhythmia and lead to a narrowing of the arteries, while the smoke can also increase a person’s heart rate when resting and exercising.
Even smoking just a few cigarettes each day is enough to cause cardiovascular damage, with around 20% of all fatalities resulting from heart disease being directly attributed to smoking. This is especially the case for diabetics or for women who take contraceptive medication, with smoking also likely to cause an increased risk of acute myocardial infarction.
A study into the subject carried out on a group of volunteers by the Birmingham VA Medical Center, Alabama, found that 22% of those who smoked had high blood glucose levels, which often signals the onset of diabetes. Additionally, 17% of the group of volunteers who had never smoked, but were often in close proximity to smokers, were found to show signs of increased blood glucose levels. When compared to those who had given up smoking and those who never smoked, their rates were a mere 14% and 11.5% respectively.
This research was able to show a considerable link between the inhalation of smoke, blood glucose levels and diabetes. This is because cigarette smoke can accumulate inside the pancreas, resulting in decreased pancreatic function and the subsequent onset of diabetes.
Furthermore, patients with diabetes tend to find it harder to regulate their blood glucose levels, leading to problems associated with insulin use, especially when compared to those who do not smoke. Additionally, they are more at risk from complications arising from various other dangerous disorders, such as kidney disease, peripheral neuropathy and diabetic retinopathy. Doctors therefore recommend that diabetics quit smoking, eat a diet low in fatty foods, get plenty of exercise, take all medication as prescribed by their doctor and always attend their doctor’s appointments, in order to reduce the likelihood of potentially fatal complications occurring.
In addition to the potentially fatal diseases directly attributed to smoking, there are a many other associated conditions caused by the habit which can lead to various other irregularities, including dental cavities, dental discoloration, bad breath, body odor, a yellowing of the cuticles, sagging skin, gray hair and premature aging. All of this could have negative effects on a smoker’s social and daily life, potentially causing depression or meaning that they eventually have to come face-to-face with a life-threatening disease.
The First Class Honors M.D., Faculty of Medicine, Prince of Songkla University. Faculty of Medicine Prince of Songkla University , 1988