If you're looking at this page, you probably already know many reasons why you or someone you know should stop smoking.

In July 2019, I traveled to Europe. I was impressed at how proactive the Quit Smoking message was and took photos of the mandatory warning signs placed on tobacco products.

Below is a little more information that you may/may not know.

Is it too late to stop?

It's never too late to quit. Stopping at any age will increase your life expectancy, provided that you stop before you develop cancer or another serious disease. Within the first 24 hours of stopping, your blood pressure and lungs will be showing improvement.

  • After three months your circulation and breathing should have improved noticeably.
  • After five years, your risk of having a heart attack falls to about half that of a smoker.
  • After 10 years, your risk of lung cancer falls to about half that of a smoker.

But I smoke because it helps me deal with stress...

Despite what you may think, nicotine doesn't calm you down. A common misconception is that smoking helps to reduce stress, but smoking actually increases the physical stress on the body and is far more dangerous than any stress that comes from quitting.

It is the cravings from cigarettes that make you feel stressed and anxious, so when you smoke the cigarette you feel calmer. Stopping smoking can actually reduce your stress levels and you'll feel much better and healthier once you quit. You might be feeling stressed from time to time and you might feel that smoking helps you cope, but non-smokers usually have lower stress levels than smokers.

What does smoking do to my body?

Smoking causes many serious and fatal diseases and conditions including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease, bronchitis and emphysema. It also causes many other cancers, respiratory diseases and strokes, and can affect fertility.

Cigarettes contain over 4,000 toxic chemicals and around 50 of these cause cancer.

Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas in cigarette smoke. It is also found in car exhaust fumes and produced by faulty gas appliances. It takes the place of oxygen in the blood, causing your lungs to work less efficiently. This stops cells all around your body from getting the oxygen they need.

Tar is the sticky brown substance that stains your fingers and teeth. Tar causes cancer and damages your lungs. It stays inside your lungs, making tubes narrower and reducing your protection against infection.

What's in a cigarette?

Cigarettes contain over 4,000 toxic chemicals and around 50 of these cause cancer. The three main toxins are nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar.

Some other chemicals found in cigarettes are:

  • Acetone - nail polish remover
  • Ammonia - toilet cleaner
  • Arsenic - rat poison
  • Benzo(a)pyrene - diesel exhaust fumes
  • Carbon monoxide - petrol exhaust fumes
  • DDT and dieldrin - insecticides
  • Formaldehyde - preservative for dead bodies
  • Hydrogen cyanide - poison used in gas chambers
  • Methanol - rocket fuel
  • Titanium - metal used to make aeroplanes

Are 'light', 'mild' or 'low tar' cigarettes better for me?

No. If you smoke "light", "mild" or "low tar" cigarettes you are likely to inhale as much tar, nicotine and other poisons as those people who smoke regular cigarettes. The use of these misleading descriptions was banned from cigarette packaging in the European Union in September 2003.

Circulation

When you smoke, the poisons from the tar in your cigarettes enter your blood. These poisons in your blood then:

  • Make your blood thicker, and increase chances of clot formation
  • Increase your blood pressure and heart rate, making your heart work harder than normal
  • Narrow your arteries, reducing the amount of oxygen rich blood circulating to your organs.

Heart

Smoking damages your heart and your blood circulation, increasing the risk of conditions such as coronary heart disease, heart attack, stroke, peripheral vascular disease (damaged blood vessels) and cerebrovascular disease (damaged arteries that supply blood to your brain).

Carbon monoxide from the smoke and nicotine both put a strain on the heart by making it work faster. They also increase your risk of blood clots. Other chemicals in cigarette smoke damage the lining of your coronary arteries, leading to furring of the arteries.

In fact, smoking doubles your risk of having a heart attack, and if you smoke you have twice the risk of dying from coronary heart disease than lifetime non-smokers.

The good news is that after only one year of not smoking, your risk is reduced by half. After stopping for 15 years, your risk is similar to that of someone who has never smoked.

Stomach

Smokers have an increased chance of getting stomach cancer or ulcers. Smoking can weaken the muscle that controls the lower end of your gullet (oesophagus) and allow acid from the stomach to travel in the wrong direction back up your gullet, a process known as reflux.

Smoking is a significant risk factor for developing kidney cancer, and the more you smoke the greater the risk. For example, research has shown that if you regularly smoke 10 cigarettes a day, you are one and a half times more likely to develop kidney cancer compared with a non-smoker. This is increased to twice as likely if you smoke 20 or more cigarettes a day.

Skin

Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to your skin. This means that if you smoke, your skin ages more quickly and looks grey and dull. The toxins in your body also cause cellulite.

Smoking prematurely ages your skin by between 10 and 20 years, and makes it three times more likely you'll get facial wrinkling, particularly around the eyes and mouth. Smoking even gives you a sallow, yellow-grey complexion and hollow cheeks, which can cause you to look gaunt.

The good news is that once you stop smoking, you will prevent further deterioration to your skin caused by smoking.

Bones

Smoking can cause your bones to become weak and brittle. Women need to be especially careful as they are more likely to suffer from brittle bones (osteoporosis) than non-smokers.

Brain

If you smoke, you are more likely to have a stroke than someone who doesn't smoke.

In fact, smoking increases your risk of having a stroke by at least 50%, which can cause brain damage and death. And, by smoking, you double your risk of dying from a stroke.

One way that smoking can increase your risk of a stroke is by increasing your chances of developing a brain aneurysm. This is a bulge in a blood vessel caused by a weakness in the blood vessel wall. This can rupture or burst which will lead to an extremely serious condition known as a subarachnoid haemorrhage, which is a type of stroke, and can cause extensive brain damage and death.

The good news is that within two years of stopping smoking, your risk of stroke is reduced to half that of a smoker and within five years it will be the same as a non-smoker.

Lungs

Your lungs can be very badly affected by smoking. Coughs, colds, wheezing and asthma are just the start. Smoking can cause fatal diseases such as pneumonia, emphysema and lung cancer. Smoking causes 84% of deaths from lung cancer and 83% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

COPD, a progressive and debilitating disease, is the name for a collection of lung diseases including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. People with COPD have difficulties breathing, primarily due to the narrowing of their airways and destruction of lung tissue. Typical symptoms of COPD include: increasing breathlessness when active, a persistent cough with phlegm and frequent chest infections.

Whilst the early signs of COPD can often be dismissed as a 'smoker's cough', if people continue smoking and the condition worsens, it can greatly impact on their quality of life. You can slow down the progression of the disease and stopping smoking is the most effective way to do this.

Mouth and throat

Smoking causes unattractive problems such as bad breath and stained teeth, and can also cause gum disease and damage your sense of taste.

The most serious damage smoking causes in your mouth and throat is an increased risk of cancer in your lips, tongue, throat, voice box and gullet (oesophagus). More than 93% of oropharyngeal cancers (cancer in part of the throat) are caused by smoking.

The good news is that when you stop using tobacco, even after many years of use, you can greatly reduce your risk of developing head and neck cancer. Once you've been smokefree for 20 years, your risk of head and neck cancer is reduced to that of a non-smoker.

Reproduction and fertility

Smoking can cause male impotence, as it damages the blood vessels that supply blood to the penis. It can also damage sperm, reduce sperm count and cause testicular cancer. Up to 120,000 men from the UK in their 20s and 30s are impotent as a direct result of smoking, and men who smoke have a lower sperm count than those who are non-smokers.

For women, smoking can reduce fertility. One study found that smokers were over three times more likely than non-smokers to have taken more than one year to conceive. The study estimated that the fertility of smoking women was 72% that of non-smokers.

Smoking also increases your risk of cervical cancer. People who smoke are less able to get rid of the HPV infection from the body, which can develop into cancer.

Smoking while you are pregnant can lead to miscarriage, premature birth, stillbirth and illness, and it increases the risk of cot death by at least 25%.

Some things you may not know...

Alzheimer's Disease: Smoking Speeds Up Mental Decline
In the elderly years, the rate of mental decline is up to five times faster in smokers than in nonsmokers, according to a study of 9,200 men and women over age 65.

Participants took standardized tests used to detect mental impairment when they entered the study and again two years later. Higher rates of mental decline were found in men and women -- and in persons with or without a family history of dementia or Alzheimer's disease, the researchers reported in the March issue of the journal Neurology.

Lupus: Smoking Raises Risk of Autoimmune Disease
Smoking cigarettes raises the risk of developing lupus -- but quitting cuts that risk, an analysis of nine studies shows.

Systemic lupus erythematosus -- known as lupus -- is a chronic autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation, pain, and tissue damage throughout the body. Although some people with lupus have mild symptoms, it can become quite severe.

For the analysis, Harvard researchers reviewed studies that examined the relationship between cigarette smoking and lupus. Among current smokers, there was "a small but significant increased risk" for the development of lupus, they report. Former smokers did not have this increased risk, according to the study, which appeared in the March issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Smoking increases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, a European analysis shows.

The researchers compared 745 SIDS cases with more than 2,400 live babies for comparison and concluded that just under half of all deaths were attributable to infants sleeping on their stomachs or sides. Roughly 16% of SIDS deaths were linked to bed sharing, but for unknown reasons, bed sharing was particularly risky when the mother smoked. The risk was very small when mothers did not smoke during pregnancy, the researchers say.

Maternal smoking alone was associated with a doubling in SIDS risk. The risk was 17 times greater, however, for babies who bed shared and had mothers who smoked. The findings are reported in the Jan. 17 issue of The Lancet.

An Increased Risk of Impotence
Guys concerned about their performance in the bedroom should stop lighting up, suggests a study that linked smoking to a man's ability to get an erection. The study of nearly 5,000 Chinese men showed that men who smoked more than a pack a day were 60% more likely to suffer erectile dysfunction, compared with men who never smoked cigarettes. Overall, 15% of past and present smokers had experienced erectile dysfunction, more commonly known as impotence. Among men who had never smoked, 12% had erection problems, according to the study, presented last year at the American Heart Association's annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention in Miami.

Blindness: Smoking Raises Risk of Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Smokers are four times more likely to become blind because of age-related macular degeneration than those who have never smoked. But quitting can lower that risk, other research shows.

Age-related macular degeneration is a severe and progressive condition that results in loss of central vision. It results in blindness because of the inability to use the part of the retina that allows for 'straight-ahead' activities such as reading, sewing, and even driving a vehicle. While all the risk factors are not fully understood, research has pointed to smoking as one major and modifiable cause.

"More than a quarter of all cases of age-related macular degeneration with blindness or visual impairment are attributable to current or past exposure to smoking," Simon P. Kelly, MD, an ophthalmic surgeon with Bolton Hospitals in the U.K, wrote in the March 4, 2004 issue of the BMJ. He came to his conclusion after reviewing three studies involving 12,470 patients.

Rheumatoid Arthritis: Genetically Vulnerable Smokers Increase Their Risk Even More
People whose genes make them more susceptible to developing rheumatoid arthritis are even more likely to get the disease if they smoke, say Swedish researchers.

In fact, certain genetically vulnerable smokers can be nearly 16 times more likely to develop the disease than nonsmokers without the same genetic profile, according to the study in the October issue of the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism.

Swedish researchers asked participants about their smoking habits and screened their blood for a gene-encoding protein sequence called the shared epitope (SE), which is the major genetic risk factor currently linked to rheumatoid arthritis. Compared with people who had never smoked and lacked SE genes, current smokers with SE genes were 7.5 times more likely to have rheumatoid arthritis.

Breast Cancer: Active Smoking Plays Bigger Role Than Thought
Other research out in 2004 shows that active smoking may play a much larger role in increasing breast cancer risk than previously thought.

In the study, published in the Jan. 7 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers looked at breast cancer risk among 116,544 women in the California Teachers Study who reported their smoking status. Between 1996 and 2000, 2,000 of the women developed breast cancer.

The prevalence of breast cancer among current smokers was 30% higher than the women who had never smoked -- regardless of whether the nonsmokers had been exposed to secondhand or passive smoke.