Smoking and How to Quit Smoking

  • Medical Author:
    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD

    Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD, is a U.S. board-certified Anatomic Pathologist with subspecialty training in the fields of Experimental and Molecular Pathology. Dr. Stöppler's educational background includes a BA with Highest Distinction from the University of Virginia and an MD from the University of North Carolina. She completed residency training in Anatomic Pathology at Georgetown University followed by subspecialty fellowship training in molecular diagnostics and experimental pathology.

  • Medical Editor: Jay W. Marks, MD
    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD

    Jay W. Marks, MD, is a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist. He graduated from Yale University School of Medicine and trained in internal medicine and gastroenterology at UCLA/Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.

View How Smoking Affects Your Looks and Life Slideshow Pictures

Quick GuideQuit-Smoking Pictures Slideshow: 13 Tips to End Your Addiction

Quit-Smoking Pictures Slideshow: 13 Tips to End Your Addiction

What problems are caused by smoking?

By smoking, you can cause health problems not only for yourself but also for those around you.

Hurting Yourself

Smoking is an addiction. Tobacco contains nicotine, a drug that is addictive. The nicotine, therefore, makes it very difficult (although not impossible) to quit. In fact, since the U.S. Surgeon General's 1964 report on the dangers of smoking, millions of Americans have quit. Still, approximately 484,000 deaths occur in the U.S. each year from smoking-related illnesses. This represents almost 1 out of every 5 deaths. The reason for these deaths is that smoking greatly increases the risk of getting lung cancer, heart attack, chronic lung disease, stroke, and many other cancers. Smokers die an average of 10 years earlier than nonsmokers. Smoking is the most preventable cause of death. In addition, smoking is perhaps the most preventable cause of breathing (respiratory) diseases within the USA.

Hurting Others

Smoking harms not just the smoker, but also family members, coworkers, and others who breathe the smoker's cigarette smoke, called secondhand smoke or passive smoke. Among infants up to 18 months of age, secondhand smoke is associated with as many as 300,000 cases of chronic bronchitis and pneumonia each year. In addition, secondhand smoke from a parent's cigarette increases a child's chances for middle ear problems, causes coughing and wheezing, worsens asthma, and increases an infant's risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Smoking is also harmful to the unborn fetus. If a pregnant woman smokes, her fetus is at an increased risk of miscarriage, early delivery (prematurity), stillbirth, infant death, and low birth weight. In fact, it has been estimated that if all women quit smoking during pregnancy, about 4,000 new babies would not die each year.

Exposure to passive smoke can also cause cancer. Research has shown that non-smokers who reside with a smoker have a 24% increase in risk for developing lung cancer when compared with other non-smokers. An estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths occur each year in the U.S. that are attributable to passive smoking, and an estimated 49,000 deaths each year in total from all smoking-related conditions occur as a result of secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke also increases the risk of stroke and heart disease. If both parents smoke, a teenager is more than twice as likely to smoke as a teenager whose parents are both nonsmokers. Even in households where only one parent smokes, young people are more likely to start smoking.

What is addictive disease and why is smoking considered an addictive disease?

The term addictive disease or addiction describes a persistent habit that is harmful to the person. Thus, addiction is a chronic (long duration) disease with reliance on the substance causing the addiction. The addictive substance also causes the accompanying deterioration of a person's physical and psychological health.

Psychologically, an individual's behavior pattern establishes how the addictive substance is used. One type of behavior is compulsive behavior, which is an overwhelming and irresistible interest in use of the substance. For example, the compulsive addict makes sure that the substance is always available. Another type of behavior is habitual behavior, which is using the substance regularly or occasionally for the desirable effects. Physically, continuous use of the substance leads to dependence on the drug by the body. This dependence means that when the drug is discontinued, symptoms of withdrawal or distress occur.

Nicotine is the component of cigarettes that addicts. Almost immediately upon inhalation, the body responds to the nicotine. An individual feels relaxed, calmer, and happier than before the inhalation. These pleasant feelings reflect the physical side of addiction, but then, not smoking cigarettes causes a craving for more cigarettes, irritability, impatience, anxiety, and other unpleasant symptoms. Indeed, these symptoms are the symptoms of withdrawal from cigarettes. Moreover, with time, more and more nicotine is desired to produce the favorable effects and to avoid the symptoms of withdrawal.

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 4/30/2015
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