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One drag on a cigarette is all it takes.

What does smoking do that’s so bad?

There is no shortage of propaganda describing the dangers of using tobacco.  But why is it so dangerous?  Sure, there’s the cancer risk, and the bad breath, body odor, and negative social pressure.  But is there more?  There must be more because cancer is so elusive, and bad odors are a small price to pay to engage in a habit you enjoy.  And who doesn’t feel negative social pressure at times? One drag is all it takes.

Smoking is bad because before the cancer kills you, you die a slow, painful, suffocating death.  You look bad, your teeth fall out, your hair is frail and your skin wrinkles up.  Let’s explore this further.

When you first start smoking, your lungs burn, your throat hurts, and you immediately contradict healthy living.  The mental state associated with actively smoking is not compatible with living your healthiest life.  This means that you are more likely to eat fast food, drink too much ethanol, resulting in weight gain, fatigue, headaches, gastric upset (possibly stomach ulcers), and elevated blood pressure.  As you develop these symptoms, strangely you’ll become *more* dependent on the cigarettes to keep them from worsening.  A real conundrum as your body becomes physically dependent on the substances found in cigarettes.

Our lungs and airway has multiple layers of protection.  Our nasal passages are moist, and hair lines our noses to help catch large particle, and keep the mucosa (skin) inside of our airway healthy and acting as a strong barrier.  Mucous is produced by the goblet cells in the airway to act as “glue” to adhere to particles that we inhale.  Then there are the cilia (hair cells) that are constantly sweeping the dirty, particle trapped, mucous goop up out of our airway and we eventually swallow this goop, inadvertently all day.  The acid in our stomach kills the bugs, and we are protected.  Then in our lungs we have more moisture, surfactant, and blood cells that circulate and migrate to phagocytosis (eating up) the smaller particles that make it past the upper airway protection mechanisms.

One drag on a cigarette paralyzes these hair cells.  So the mucous that’s still being produced (sometimes at a faster rate because of the inhalation of many large, dangerous particles) is just sitting there.  And the bacteria are growing in it.  And it sits there.  The hair cells are unable to brush it up into our throats for us to swallow.  And this is not good.

Eventually, the mucous layer gets so thick, and the particles so plentiful, that our cough mechanism is triggered.  This becomes the only way we can clear this toxic goop from our airway, the cough.  This is why as you reach a smoking steady state, and seem to have gotten over the initial discomforts of smoking, you’ll develop a cough.  Not too noticeable at first, and you’ll likely attribute the cough to a viral infection or allergies.  The thing is, the “viral infection” will drag on for a couple of weeks or the allergies will not respond to allergy medication.

Then, you’ll get pneumonia.  Pneumonia is actually not incredibly common among young healthy people since a healthy immune system will protect our lungs from an upper respiratory infection.  But the immune system is compromised by smoking, so you’re more likely to catch every passing virus.  And once you *have* the virus, it’s very difficult to beat it.  Combined with more mucous that’s just sitting stagnant because of your paralyzed cilia, it’s easy to see how getting pneumonia is easy.

As more time goes by, the cough becomes very noticeable and debilitating.  Shortness of breath ensues, and your exercise tolerance decreased.  This happens as a result of multiple insults on your body, including decreased oxygen circulation, increased carbon monoxide in the blood, damage to the arteries (including the coronary arteries) preventing adequate oxygen from reaching the heart.  You risk of getting blood clots increase, your cholesterol profile worsens, and your blood pressure continues to rise.  Combined, these factors contribute to heart disease, heart attacks, and strokes.  If the oxygen is unable to get to your muscles, you feel fatigued.  If the oxygen is unable to get to your brain, you cannot think and perform.  If oxygen cannot get to your penis, and the blood vessels are not open and strong, you will not be able to obtain an erection leading to chronic impotence.  And if the oxygen cannot get to your uterus, you will not be able to have a healthy pregnancy and deliver a healthy infant, resulting in miscarriages, preterm labor, and unhealthy babies.

Since smoking, high blood pressure, and cholesterol problems contribute to kidney disease, it is likely that you will suffer from inadequate kidney function.  If this gets bad enough, you’ll require dialysis to stay alive.  Before it gets bad, your electrolytes will become deranged, and the “toxins” will increase in your blood.  This causes nausea, vomiting, dizziness, fatigue, itching, and a multitude of other discomforts.

Finally, people who smoke for years will develop COPD.  This is a disease with two different (but overlapping) clinical manifestations:

chronic bronchitis -  lots of coughing and mucous as the bronchus and bronchioles become inflamed and restrict airflow and is defined as productive cough on most days for 3 months per  year, for 2 years.  Restricted airflow causes low oxygen levels and high carbon dioxide levels in the blood.

emphysema - where lung tissue (alveoli) is actually destroyed over time.  This results in enlarged air spaces as the walls of the normally small sacs are destroyed.  This reduces the available surface area in the lungs for gas exchange resulting in inadequate oxygenation.  And the now large air sacs require constant back pressure to keep them open, so during exhalation the lips are pursed to keep the pressure high in the lungs.

Eventually just performing normal daily activities become impossible.  The shortness of breath, chest pain, recurrent pneumonias, and generalized fatigue dominates your life!!  This happens to all smokers if they live long enough.  And the process begins with that first drag!

And we didn’t even touch upon the many dangers *your* smoking imposes onto everyone around you, especially your family and children!