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Most of us know that smoking:
- causes cancer, lung disease, and heart disease
- can shorten your life by 10 years or more
- can cost a smoker thousands of dollars a year
So why are people still lighting up? The answer, in a word, is addiction.
Once You Start, It's Hard to Stop
Smoking is a hard habit to break because tobacco contains the very addictive chemical nicotine. As with heroin or other addictive drugs, the body and mind quickly get used to the nicotine in cigarettes. Soon, a person needs to have it just to feel normal.
People start smoking for different reasons. Some think it looks cool. Others start because their family members or friends smoke. Almost all adult tobacco users started before they were 18 years old. Most never expected to become addicted. That's why it's so much easier to not start smoking at all.
What About E-Cigarettes and Hookahs?
It's not only cigarettes that people get hooked on.
Also beware of vaping. Battery-operated e-cigarettes use cartridges filled with nicotine, flavorings, and other harmful chemicals and turn them into a vapor that's inhaled by the user.
Some people think that e-cigarettes are safer than regular cigarettes because they don't contain tobacco. But the other ingredients in them are dangerous too. In fact, there are reports of serious lung damage and even death among people who use e-cigarettes. So health experts strongly warn against using them.
Hookahs are water pipes used to smoke tobacco through a hose with a mouthpiece. Some people think they're safer than cigarettes because the smoke cools when it passes through the water. But look at the black gunk that builds up in a hookah hose. Some of that gets into users' mouths and lungs. And since they don't have filters and people often use them for long periods, their health risks might be even greater. Hookahs are usually shared, so there's the added risk from germs being passed around along with the pipe.
How Can Smoking Affect Health?
Many of the chemicals in cigarettes, like nicotine and cyanide, are poisons that can kill in high doses. The body is smart. It goes on the defense when it's being poisoned. First-time smokers often feel pain or burning in their throat and lungs, and some even throw up the first few times they try tobacco.
Over time, smoking leads to health problems such as:
- heart disease
- lung damage
- many types of cancer — including lung, throat, stomach, and bladder cancer
Other problems include:
- gum disease
- yellow teeth
- eye disease
- an increased risk for infections (like pneumonia)
- a greater risk of diabetes
- weaker bones that are easier to break
- skin problems like psoriasis (a type of rash)
- wrinkled skin
Smoking can affect sexual health in both men and women. Girls who smoke and are on hormone-based birth control methods like the Pill, the patch, or the ring have a higher risk of serious health problems, like heart attacks. And if a woman wants to get pregnant, smoking can make that harder.
Besides these long-term problems, the chemicals in cigarettes and other products also can affect the body quickly. Teen smokers can have many of these problems:
- Bad breath. Cigarettes leave smokers with a condition called halitosis, or lasting bad breath.
- Bad-smelling clothes and hair. The smell of stale smoke tends to last — not just on people's clothing, but on their hair, furniture, and cars. It's hard to get the smell of smoke out.
- Trouble keeping up in sports. Smokers usually can't compete well with nonsmokers. Physical effects of smoking, like a fast heartbeat, decreased circulation, and shortness of breath, harm sports performance.
- Greater risk of injury and slower healing time. Smoking hurts the body's ability to make collagen. So common sports injuries, such as damage to tendons and ligaments, will heal more slowly in smokers than nonsmokers.
- Increased risk of illness. Studies show that smokers get sick more with colds, flu, bronchitis, and pneumonia than nonsmokers. And people with some health conditions, like asthma, get sicker if they smoke (and often if they're just around people who smoke). Teens who smoke as a way to manage their weight often light up instead of eating. So their bodies can lack the nutrients needed to grow, develop, and fight off illness well.
Kicking Butts and Staying Smoke-Free
All forms of tobacco — cigarettes, pipes, cigars, hookahs, and smokeless tobacco — are health hazards. It doesn't help to substitute products that are advertised as better for you, such as e-cigarettes or filtered or low-tar cigarettes.
The only thing that really helps is staying away from all these products. This isn't always easy, especially if everyone around you is smoking or vaping. It may help to have your reasons for saying no ready for times you may feel the pressure. Try "I just don't like it" or "I want to stay in shape for soccer" (or football, basketball, or other sport).
If you do smoke or vape and want to quit, you have lots of information and support available. Different approaches to quitting work for different people. For some, quitting cold turkey is best. Others find that a slower approach is the way to go. Some people find that it helps to go to a support group especially for teens.
You also can find information and support online at:
When quitting, know that the first few days are the hardest. So don't give up. Some people find they have a few relapses before they manage to quit for good.
Staying smoke-free will give you more energy, better looks, more money in your pocket, and in the long run, more life to live!
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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Images sourced by The Nemours Foundation and Getty Images.