There are no other legal products which are as harmful as cigarettes when used as they are designed to be used. Smoking causes gradual damage to your body as well as increasing the risk of various diseases. It also harms other people who breathe the smoke. Below is just a selection of the harms of smoking. Most of these harms are not known to apply to smokeless nicotine products.
Quality of Life
Smoking damages many aspects of your quality of life as well as increasing the chance of an early death. It reduces physical fitness, making you get out of breath easily, it damages your lung’s ability to self-clean, so you may cough heavily, especially the morning. It is a major cause of male sexual dysfunction (by damaging blood-flow in the penis). Yellowing and ageing of teeth, hair and skin may mean smokers feel less attractive and the lingering smell of tobacco smoke on clothes and in homes is very unattractive to most non-smokers. Successful public health campaigns have had the side-effect of making some smokers feel guilty and stigmatised. There can be unexpected consequences, for example it may be impossible to adopt children if you smoke. It is also very expensive. Being addicted to other nicotine products may have some smaller impacts.
Around 7 in every 8 cases of lung cancer and 3 in 4 cases of oral cancer are caused by tobacco, but as well as these more obvious cancers in places the smoke contacts directly, it increases the chance of many others too, such as cervical and pancreatic cancer.
Smoking destroys the tiny hairs which sweep mucus up out of the lungs, allowing gunk-like mucus and tar to collect. This increases the chance of infections, and causes persistent coughing. The delicate air sacs in the lungs can break down. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is the term used for the often fatal disease of the lungs with progressive loss of function caused by smoking. This can potentially spoil your life long before it causes death.
Smoking increases the risks of heart disease, raises blood pressure and damages veins and arteries. This means that the risk of heart attacks and strokes is much increased.
Risk of breaking bones
One of many little-known risks of smoking is that it interferes with the mineralisation of bone, particularly in young women who should be storing up the strength of their ‘bone bank’ for when bones lose density in later life. Smoking leaves bones (notably hips and backbones) a little weaker and so significantly more likely to fracture, especially in older age. After quitting, it seems that bone density recovers fairly well.
• Avoiding addiction to smoking tobacco in the first place,
• If addicted already, quitting as soon as possible
• If quitting is not feasible or desired, transferring to less harmful forms of nicotine product.
Historical attempts to develop ways for people to continue smoking cigarettes whilst reducing overall harm, for example by using low-tar varieties, have proved ineffective.
Quitting smoking permanently can be really hard, and many people do not succeed on their first attempt. It is possible for motivated people to quit smoking without any help, either by cutting down gradually or just deciding to never smoke again, called ‘going cold turkey’. There is some evidence that ‘going cold turkey’ is the most likely to work overall, though different methods will work best for different people.
Depending on where you live, there are a range of sources of support to help you quit, from doctors to other community services. The support of family and friends is also helpful.
Nicotine replacement therapies, like patches and nicotine gum, are proven to help some people quit. They may help get out of the habits involved in smoking, allowing you to overcome the nicotine addiction separately.
Switching to smokeless nicotine
Quitting tobacco is the way to minimise harm, but in reality, many people struggle and fail to quit, or do not want to. These people may benefit from switching to a form of long-term nicotine addiction which is less likely to cause disease and death. There is very little evidence yet to rank the forms of smokeless tobacco in order of harmfulness, but it is likely that they all offer far less risk than smoking cigarettes.