Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, killing more than 480,000 people each year.
In Kentucky, more than 8,000 people die each year of tobacco-related illness, and treatment of Kentuckians with smoking-related disease costs more than $1.2 billion in Medicaid and Medicare costs each year.
Here’s how and where in the body smoking causes so much damage – and how quitting can help.
Tiny air sacs in the lungs called alveoli allow oxygen and carbon dioxide to move between the lungs and the blood. Smoking destroys the alveoli, which do not grow back.
When enough aveoli are destroyed or damaged, the lungs begin to lose their ability to expand and contract. This can result in emphysema, the inability to get oxygen into the blood and carbon dioxide out of it.
Meanwhile, irritants in cigarette smoke can cause bronchitis -- the swelling and narrowing of the bronchial tubes, along with increased production of phlegm. The smaller openings make it more difficult for air to get in and out.
Emphysema and bronchitis contribute to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), the increasing loss of breath. COPD, which can be controlled but not cured, is the third-leading cause of death in the United States.
How quitting helps:
- The risk of all these conditions goes down.
- As lung function gradually improves, coughing and wheezing decreases.
- Easier and more efficient breathing results in an increase in energy.
Chemicals in tobacco smoke make the blood vessels contract and thicken. At the same time, smoking makes the blood thicker, forcing the heart to work harder to pump blood through the body. Blood pressure rises.
The likelihood that the blood will clot increases, and the risk of aneurism -- a bulge in an arterial wall, which can rupture -- goes up. Both of these factors raise the likelihood of stroke, the sudden death of brain cells because of bleeding in the brain or the restriction of blood to the brain.
Because the heart has to work harder to pump thicker blood through narrower arteries, there’s greater risk of heart attack or heart failure.
How quitting helps:
Within two to three months after quitting smoking, your risk of having a heart attack starts to decrease, and within a year after quitting, your added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s, according to the American Heart Association.
Smoking is the top risk factor for getting cancer. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention points out that:
- Cigarette smoking is linked to about 80 percent to 90 percent of lung cancers.
- Cigarette smokers are 15 to 30 times more likely to get lung cancer or die from lung cancer than people who do not smoke.
- Cigarette smoking can cause cancer in the mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, pancreas, larynx, trachea, kidneys, bladder, and cervix.
How quitting helps:
People who quit smoking have a lower risk of lung cancer than if they had continued to smoke, but their risk is higher than the risk for people who never smoked. Quitting smoking at any age can lower the risk of lung cancer.
It’s not easy to quit smoking, but many resources are available to help you:
- Kentucky Cancer Program: Cooper/Clayton Method to Stop Smoking is an evidence-based 13-week program led by trained facilitators that combines the use of nicotine replacement products with group support. Classes: Call 866-495-9838
- GetQuit Support Plan: Information sponsored by the Pfizer drug company describing the drug Chantix™ and a free support program including a step-by-step guide. 877-CHANTIX
- National Cancer Institute's Smoking Quitline: Smoking cessation counselors are available to answer smoking-related questions, including quitting smokeless tobacco, in English/Spanish, 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday- Friday. 1-877-448-7848
- National Library of Medicine & National Institutes of Health smoking cessation references.
- Kentucky's Tobacco Quit Line: The QUIT Line offers a one-on-one proactive counseling program for tobacco users. 1-800-QUIT NOW