The Dangerous Effects of Smoking (and How to Quit)

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Worldwide, tobacco use kills 7 million people per year; it’s the number one cause of preventable death. There are many types of tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, vapes, chewing tobacco, etc.). In the US, cigarettes reign supreme, with the death toll to prove it.

Approximately 500,000 people die from cigarette-induced health complications annually. That’s 1300 people per day! This number includes approx. 41, 000 non-cigarette users who we’re exposed to second-hand smoke.

The life expectancy of a smoker is 10 years less than non-smokers. Fortunately, quitting smoking before turning 40 reduces the risk of dying from a related illness by 90%. Even for those of us over 40, quitting is a wise choice.

Risk of Smoking

Tobacco smoke contains upwards of 4000 chemical compounds. 70 of these are known to cause cancer, including arsenic and formaldehyde. Smoking can damage many parts of the body and increase the risk of illness. It can:

  • Increase the risk of heart disease and stroke by 2 to 4 times
  • Increase the risk of developing lung cancer by 25%
  • Cause lung disease (ex., COPD)
  • Cause erectile dysfunction and infertility
  • Cause cancer anywhere in the body (ex. Bladder, esophagus, blood, cervix, stomach, etc.)
  • If smoking while pregnant, cause low birth weight, increase risk of sudden infant death syndrome, cause stillbirth, etc.
  • Cause gum damage and tooth loss
  • Cause eye disease (ex. cataracts and age-related macular degeneration)
  • Decrease immune system ability
  • Cause rheumatoid arthritis

Physical, Mental and Social Aspects of Smoking Addiction

To successfully quit smoking, we should collaborate with a healthcare provider to a create quit plan. It may include:

  • Reasons for quitting
  • Methods of quitting
  • The quit date
  • Supports to have in place on quit day, and after.

We should also consider the physical, mental, and social aspects of smoking addiction. This will help us determine the type of supports to plan for.


Tobacco contains nicotine, which is highly addictive. It works by stimulating our brain’s reward system, which releases dopamine. Dopamine is a brain chemical that causes pleasant feelings (among other things).

When we smoke, we feel happy. However, nicotine is very short-acting; the effects last a few minutes. When it wears off, we may feel irritated or uncomfortable, so we smoke again to remedy this.

Over time, our body builds up tolerance to nicotine. This means we need to consume more to experience the same effects. At this point if we try to quit, we may experience withdrawal symptoms, like:

  • Intense nicotine cravings
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Tingling in the hands and feet
  • Headaches
  • Sweating
  • Thinking difficulties
  • Weight gain

To deal with the physical nature of nicotine addiction, we may benefit from:

  • Nicotine replacement therapy (NRT). NRT help curb withdrawal symptoms by delivery a steady, low dose of nicotine. For this, the below products may be used:
    • Nicotine gum
    • Nicotine patches
    • Nicotine nasal sprays.
    • Nicotine lozenges
  • Medication.
    • Varenicline blocks the body’s ability to absorb nicotine. This makes smoking less pleasurable. This medication also helps control cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
    • Bupropion is an antidepressant approved for smoking addiction treatment. It reduces cravings and withdrawal symptoms. The exact way it works is unknown.


Smoking becomes part of our daily routine. We may incorporate it into our morning habits, like when we first wake up.

Or maybe we smoke to relax after work, or when out drinking with friends. In tough times, we may also rely on the emotional boost nicotine provides.

When we incorporate smoking into our lives, the habit can be difficult to shake. We should consider what our triggers for smoking are. That way, when we create our quit plan, we can decide how we’ll handle them.


Smoking can be a social activity. We may share camaraderie with fellow smokers outside of a bar. Perhaps we connect with our coworkers over a cigarette on our lunchbreak.

Smoking may ease our nerves in social situations. When quitting, forfeiting the social element can be hard.

On the flip side, supportive social connections are beneficial to successful quitting. We can seek support from:

  • A quitting support group
  • Our healthcare provider
  • Counseling programs
  • Family and friends

Quitting smoking is hard, but the truth of continuing is harder. Smoking-related diseases claim the lives of so many people each day. Don’t be one of them. Recruit help, create a plan and make quitting a reality.

Need support while quitting? Become a UCA member and get instant access to a qualified therapist, 24/7/365.


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