PUBLISHED: 09:00 28 December 2015
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012
Our health columnist, GP Dr Matt Piccaver has a Christmas wish he'd love to see granted - that everyone would stop smoking
We probably all know this. Smoking is without doubt one of the daftest things we can do in terms of damage to our health. We’ve known for decades that smoking makes us ill. The commonest illness many people associate with smoking is lung cancer. Yet lung cancer is but one of many conditions that smoking can cause.
Tobacco came to Europe from the Americas, and has been in use in some form for around 3000 years. Tobacco was used in ritual ceremonies, as a way of forming trust or sealing an agreement. Tobacco was brought to Europe in 1559, with seeds planted in the area of Los Cigarrales, Toledo. You can probably guess where cigarettes and cigars derived their name.
Aside from nicotine, tobacco contains a whole array of nasty chemicals, including arsenic, cadmium and formaldehyde. In fact, there are thousands of chemicals potentially found either in tobacco or added to the cigarettes themselves.
If we were asked to directly consume arsenic or formaldehyde, I have no doubt that we’d all say no. Yet we may happily take a paper encased roll of tobacco and inhale those very chemicals. Or chew them, smoke them in a pipe, or a shisha if we’re feeling exotic.
When we inhale smoke, it enters our body through the mouth and nose, damaging the lining. We might find our sense of taste reduces. Colds might take longer to shift or feel more severe. We might even develop throat cancer.
Deeper in the lungs, smoke damages the ends of the airways called alveoli. These are the business end of the lungs, exhanging oxygen for carbon dioxide. We inhale oxygen, it courses around our body helping to fuel our cells. We exhale carbon dioxide, the by-product of cellular respiration. They fill up with gunge, referred to as tar on the cigarette packets. Smoking slowly destroys these important parts of our lungs, leading to the development of conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
Chemicals in the smoke find their way into the blood stream. They cause cholesterol to build up in our blood vessels, speeding up the narrowing of our arteries. This can lead to illnesses such as heart disease, problems with our circulation, or even stroke.
These chemicals can find their way into our bladders, and can increase the likelihood that we’ll develop bladder cancer. Smoking makes the skin age, leaving it looking dull and lacking in vitality. It can also lead to erectile dysfunction.
So if you want heart disease, lung disease or countless other diseases, keep it up. But if you want to reduce the harms caused by smoking, then it is time to stop.
The good news is that support is there to help you stop - www.NHS.uk/smokefree is a brilliant source of help and advice on how to stop smoking. You could chat to the pharmacist for advice on products, or go and see your local health practice and see if they have smoking cessation services.
When you stop, you’ll start to feel better. Your sense of taste will return, and your energy levels increase. Your stamina will build. Above all, you’ll stop damaging yourself.
Pick a day, make that commitment and plan for your last day as a smoker. I promise you, you’ll never look back.