Smoking Addiction Facts and Effects

Smoking Addiction Awareness

Smoking addiction is one of the best-known and most common addictions. Smoking addiction articles are everywhere, and few schoolchildren haven’t heard the message that smoking is bad for you. Despite the attention, awareness, and known health risks, smoking continues to claim more victims each year.

Nicotine, the addictive ingredient in tobacco, enters the brain just 10 seconds after inhalation, causing rapid changes in brain chemistry that activate the reward or pleasure centers of the brain. Long-term smoking causes permanent changes in the brain’s wiring, making quitting even harder.

Fortunately, it is possible to stop smoking, as millions of people who are now nicotine-free can attest. It’s possible to quit smoking and end smoking addiction on your own or with the help of medications and support groups.

Smoking Addiction Statistics

Approximately 30.8 million adults in the United States are cigarette smokers as of 2020, or nearly 13 percent of the population. Men slightly outnumber women as smokers, with just over 14 percent of men among the general population smokers and about 11 percent of women smoking cigarettes. Each day, 1,600 young people smoke their first cigarette. For some, it’s their first and last. For many others, it’s the start of a lifelong smoking addiction.

These smoking addiction facts should give you pause as you consider the impact of smoking on your health:

  • Smoking is the number one cause of death, disability, and preventable disease in the United States.
  • Smoking causes harm to just about every organ in the body.
  • The United States loses hundreds of billions of dollars yearly to smoking.
  • Billions of dollars per year are spent by the tobacco industry on marketing cigarettes.
  • Most cigarette smokers want to quit.

Costs of Smoking

Smoking affects everyone, whether you’re a current smoker, an ex-smoker, or never smoked at all. That’s because smoking has a significant impact on healthcare costs nationwide.

Over $240 billion was spent on healthcare for smoking-related illnesses in 2018, with $372 billion in lost productivity due to smoking-related illnesses.

Health insurance covered some of this expenditure. Although smokers often pay more for their health insurance than non-smokers, the additional costs don’t come close to covering $240 billion in medical expenses. Everyone picks up the tab for smoking’s effects on the population.

Smoking Addiction Effects

Smoking addiction affects the lungs, but it also impacts many other organs and systems. Here’s how smoking affects your body:

  • Brain: When you inhale cigarette smoke, it rushes to the brain. Smoking reduces the number of receptors in the brain. These receptors accept signals from a brain chemical called dopamine, which is linked to pleasurable feelings. Nicotine exposure reduces the number of receptor sites, meaning smokers addicted to nicotine increase the number of cigarettes they smoke to continue feeling good. Over time, this leads to addiction.
  • Mouth: The heat from cigarettes can burn your tongue, mouth, larynx, and trachea. Heat and chemicals inhaled into your mouth and nose can increase the likelihood of cancers of the mouth, lips, nose, and throat.
  • Lungs: The lungs are the most affected by smoking. Irritants in cigarette smoke are trapped inside the lungs by tiny hair called cilia, which beat rhythmically to push irritants out of the lungs so you can breathe freely. That’s why when you inhale dust while you’re cleaning, for example, you start coughing. Cilia and mucus move irritants out of the lungs. Smokers end up with a chronic cough as their bodies try to sweep the lungs clean of irritants.
  • Cardiovascular system: Smoking causes irritation in the body, and the body releases lipids (fats) such as cholesterol in response to this irritation. Plaque forms in the arteries, leading to atherosclerosis. Plaques breaking away from the blood vessel walls can cause a stroke. If they block a coronary artery, they can cause a heart attack. Smoking also increases blood pressure, leading to stroke and heart disease.
  • Gastrointestinal tract: Smokers are more prone to acid reflux and ulcers because cigarette smoke irritates the throat and esophagus, the tube that brings food from the mouth into the stomach.
  • Immune system: Your immune system houses the “soldiers” of the body, the first defenders that rush to confront invading bacteria and viruses. Smoking compromises many of the body’s natural barriers against invaders, such as the mucus lining of the nose. It’s easier for germs to move into the body, straining the immune system. This can lead to more frequent colds and cases of the flu, as well as an increase in other skin and ear infections.
  • Moods and emotion: The first puff of a cigarette makes smokers feel alert and awake. Subsequent puffs, however, tend to produce feelings of relaxation. Researchers have found a connection between smoking and depression. Smoking increases the risk of depression, and for those diagnosed with depression, it worsens symptoms. Researchers aren’t sure why this is so, but they are confident there is a cause-and-effect relationship between smoking and depression.

Nicotine, the addictive ingredient inside tobacco, is a poison. Manufacturers of pesticides even use derivatives of nicotine in their products. It’s no wonder it damages so many of the body’s systems.

Smoking and Drug Interactions

Cigarette smoke also interacts with many common prescription and non-prescription medications. Smoking can increase or decrease the time it takes the body to break down a drug. If the time is increased, the drug circulates longer in the body and may increase the effects of the dose. If nicotine shortens the time a drug circulates in the body, it may render it less effective. Depending on the medication and its interaction with nicotine, it may do one or both. That’s why it’s always important to tell your doctor or pharmacist if you smoke. They may need to prescribe a different dose of medication for smokers versus non-smokers.
Some common drugs that smoking affects include blood thinners, SSRI medicines used to treat depression and anxiety, heart medicines, anti-seizure medicines, and asthma treatments. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about potential drug interactions if you’re a smoker taking any of these medications.

Quitting Smoking

Smoking addiction is one of the most difficult addictions to quit. Some studies claim it’s harder to quit smoking than stop using heroin. Nicotine withdrawal symptoms include agitation, cravings, shaking hands, and anxiety. These symptoms are relieved within seconds after smoking a cigarette, which can make it hard to quit.

About 70 percent of smokers want to quit in a given year, but only about five percent quit for good with no treatment. There are many methods one can use to quit smoking. The method that works for you will depend on your smoking history and desire to quit.

Some common ways people quit smoking include:

  • Tapering off: Those who taper off smoking cut back their smoking habit by one cigarette every day or after a set number of days. Gradually tapering off an addictive substance can give the body time to adapt and adjust to life without it.
  • Going “cold turkey”: Going cold turkey means stopping abruptly. Smokers may experience intense cravings as their bodies detox from cigarette smoking.
  • Nicotine replacement therapy: Prescription medications, nasal sprays, or other products can replace smoking with other nicotine-based products or weaken the cravings for nicotine.
  • Mind games: Some smokers successfully break their habit by playing mental games with their bodies. They chew gum or toothpicks to get the feeling of having something in their mouth other than a cigarette. Delaying tactics also help: When you crave a cigarette, wait 10 minutes, then tell yourself it’s just another 10 minutes. The cravings will pass.
  • Therapy: Smoking cessation therapy can help people understand some of the psychological benefits of smoking and replace these benefits with healthier actions. Therapy can also introduce practical methods for dealing with nicotine cravings.

Will You Gain Weight When You Stop Smoking?

Many people gain a few pounds when they stop smoking. That’s because smoking tends to increase the metabolism slightly and dampen the taste buds, so food doesn’t taste quite as good. When you stop smoking, food may taste and smell better, increasing your appetite. You may also reach for food to feel as if you have something in your mouth to replace the feeling of a cigarette.

Gaining weight isn’t inevitable, however, when you stop smoking. You can take several steps to avoid putting on a few pounds when you quit:

  • Exercise: The more you move, the more calories you burn. Before you exercise, consult your doctor. Start slowly if you’ve been a heavy smoker. Try walking, yoga, or a sport you enjoy.
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are low in calories and high in water content and fiber, both of which make you feel full.
  • Become mindful of what you eat: Many smokers reach for cigarettes out of habit and turn to food in the same way when they quit smoking. Mindfulness techniques encourage you to pause and fully savor the moment, so you slow down and experience it to the fullest. Mindful eating encourages slow, deliberate consumption of meals and snacks. People tend to eat less when they slow down, and one tasty bite of a high-calorie treat may satisfy you more when you stop to savor it.

Smoking Addiction Support

The first place to seek smoking addiction support is with your doctor. Your doctor knows firsthand the dangers of cigarette smoke. They probably see patients daily suffering from the effects of chronic smoking. Your doctor can be your best ally in quitting smoking.

There are also smoking cessation helplines in all 50 states. These hotlines can put you in touch with local smoking addiction support groups and offer encouragement and resources to quit smoking for good.

Nicotine Anonymous is another smoking addiction support group that follows the 12-step model popularized by Alcoholics Anonymous for stopping an addiction. You can find local chapters listed in the phone book or online. Many health insurance companies also offer programs, hotlines, and other resources to help members quit. Local hospitals often have free smoking cessation groups, too. Check with your health insurance plan and local clinic or hospital for stop-smoking classes near you.

Smoking Addiction Prevention

Smoking addiction prevention starts by never taking a puff of that first cigarette. Once you start smoking, you’re likely to become addicted to it. To help your children avoid smoking, use these smoking addiction prevention tips:

  • Talk to your children about the dangers of smoking. You can start when they are as young as 5 or 6 years old.
  • Give children consistent messages about smoking. Consistency builds trust.
  • Set a good example. If you smoke, quit. If you smoked in the past, be honest about why you smoked and how hard it was to quit.
  • Make smoking completely off-limits in your home, even to guests. This gives children the message that you don’t tolerate smoking in any form.
  • Make sure your kids attend smoke-free events. Try to discourage them from hanging out with others who smoke.
  • Help your kids understand how expensive smoking is and what a toll it will take on their funds. They won’t have any money left to buy video games, clothes, or other things they want if all their money goes to buying cigarettes.

Smoking Addiction Prevention Includes All Tobacco Products

Make sure your kids understand there are other tobacco products besides cigarettes. It might seem obvious to you, but kids may not know that pipe smoking, cigars, and chewing tobacco are also harmful and potentially addictive.

E-cigarettes — also called vapor or vape cigarettes — do not contain tobacco, but they do contain nicotine and other harmful chemicals. Some teens and young adults turn to vapor cigarettes believing them to be a healthier alternative to tobacco smoke. You must help your kids understand that any nicotine product is harmful, whether a pack of cigarettes, a pinch of chewing tobacco, or a vapor cigarette.

Stop Smoking Now

Smoking causes more preventable deaths in the United States than in any other activity. It’s been glamorized in the movies and television shows, and it’s everywhere. Fortunately, there are ways parents can discourage kids from smoking. There are also many ways you can successfully quit smoking.
Quitting smoking is one of the hardest addictions to quit, but it also yields some of the greatest rewards. When you stop smoking, not only will you feel better, but you’ll also sleep better, too. Your clothes won’t stink from cigarette smoke. Your lungs will eventually clear from the irritants, and your blood pressure may return to normal. You’ll have more money in your pocket and greater peace of mind knowing you’re doing all you can for your health. It’s never too late to quit, as us how we can help.

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Reviewed By:

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis

Dr. John Elgin Wilkaitis completed medical school at The University of Mississippi Medical Center and residency in general psychiatry in 2003. He completed a fellowship in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 2005. Following this, he served as Chief Medical Officer for 10 years of Brentwood Behavioral Healthcare a private health system including a 105-bed hospital, residential treatment, and intensive outpatient services.

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