Cigarette – The Death Stick

Tobacco use is currently responsible for the death of one in ten adults worldwide (about 5 million deaths each year).

Among the five greatest risk factors for mortality, it is the single most preventable cause of death. (WHO)

Modern cigarette production is very toxic endeavor: herbicides and pesticides are used in the tobacco fields, chemicals are added to the tobacco mix to enhance burning, and the rolling papers are processed with heavy-duty bleaches.

No less than 4000 irritating, suffocating, inflammable, toxic, poisonous, carcinogenic substances and even radioactive compounds (plutonium, polonium) have been identified in tobacco smoke.

Cigarettes contain arsenic, formaldehyde, lead, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxide, carbon monoxide, ammonia and 43 known carcinogens.

These substances damage the lining of the respiratory tract and destroys the cilia, the small hairs that act as natural filters in the air passages and keep foreign particles out of the lungs.

They slow down respiratory output and irritate the mucus membranes, predisposing to recurrent cough, obstruction in airways and emphysema, a condition in which the alveoli are permanently distended due to airway obstruction.

With continued distension the alveoli rupture, reducing the ability of lung to deliver oxygen to the tissues.

As the cilia are blocked, the tars in the cigarette smoke are deposited and collect on the walls of the respiratory tract and lungs, and cause them to turn black.

The carcinogenic action of the tar is well known: they are responsible for 95% of lung cancers.

By smoking one packet of cigarettes every day, a smoker is pouring a cupful (225 g on average) of these tars into his or her lungs every year.


Naughty Nicotine 

There are 8 to 20 mg of nicotine in one cigarette and 1 mg is actually absorbed into your body when you smoke that one cigarette.

When absorbed, nicotine can either relax you or get you hyped up, depending how long you’ve been smoking. It can enhance concentration and short term memory, and suppress little fits of anger.

Nicotine is also the substance responsible for the effects on nervous system which make a person psychologically dependent on cigarettes. It is quickly absorbed from the blood in the lung alveoli and is carried to the brain.

Higher levels of nicotine in a cigarette can make it harder to quit smoking. Some researchers feel nicotine is as addictive as heroin.

In fact, nicotine has actions similar to heroin and cocaine, and the chemical affects the same area of the brain.

Nicotine (particularly the first cigarette of the day), reaches the brain in just 10 seconds. It increases the activity of dopamine, a chemical in the brain that elicits pleasurable sensations, a feeling similar to getting a reward.

The effects of nicotine lasts about 40 minutes after the cigarette, which explains the frequent smoke breaks throughout the day.

As time goes on, the nerve cells become desensitized to nicotine and smoking becomes less pleasurable. The body will quickly begin to build a tolerance to the nicotine, and high dose is likely to be needed for smokers to get their “reward.”


Smoking Health Risks


Smokers inhaling cigarette smoke breathe in 3.2 % carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide deprives the muscles, brain as well as body tissues of oxygen that causes the organs to work harder.

Oxygen is transported in blood by haemoglobin. With smokers, the carbon monoxide attaches itself to the haemoglobin much quicker than oxygen does, thereby displacing the oxygen; this in turn suffocates the organism.

It takes between six and 24 hours for the carbon monoxide to leave the blood stream.

This causes the following cardiovascular problems: narrowing of the arteries, blood clots, and heart attack, but also loss of reflexes and visual problems.

Of all addictive substances, tobacco is one of the most damaging to the immune system.

It damages the cilia, which gives free access to foreign particles to the lungs, increasing the risk of infection.

Smoking also causes more mucus to be produced, creating a breeding environment for bacteria, and making you more prone to upper respiratory infections.

Cigarette smoke contains high amounts of free radicals, triggering antioxidant depletion, lipid peroxidation, and protein modification, creating additional toxic products.

The toxic products are thought to activate inflammatory immune responses, creating smoking-related oxidative tissue damage.

Several studies over many years have evaluated the effect of smoking on semen parameters, especially density, motility and morphology. These studies demonstrated a reduction in sperm density, motility and possibly morphology.

Men who smoke cigarettes run an increased risk of experiencing erectile dysfunction, and the more cigarettes smoked, the greater the risk, according to a study by Tulane University researchers published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Women who smoke reduce their chances of conceiving by up to 40% each month, and couples who smoke are less likely to respond to infertility treatment.

Cigarette smoke is not only damaging on its own, it can change the body against itself.

Cigarette smoke combined with healthy saliva creates a mixture that can accelerate oropharyngeal cancer, according to a researchers published in British Journal of Cancer.

The report outlined that saliva contains antioxidant molecules that fight and neutralize harmful substances and help protect the body against cancer.

Cigarette smoke damages the antioxidants in saliva and turns it into a mixture of chemicals which can accelerate the development of oral cancer.

Tobacco leaves are cured in sugar, when smoked they raise blood sugar levels. Sugar approximates to roughly 20% of a cigarette, and many diabetics are unaware of this secret sugar intake. Also, the effect of burning sugar is unknown.

Tobacco use is also associated with delayed recovery from injuries and a higher incidence of atherosclerosis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Crohn’s disease, rheumatoid arthritis and cancers of the lung, mouth, larynx, oesophagus and bladder.

Other health risk problems include, decreased taste and smell, macular degeneration, tooth and gum disease. Nicotine decreases circulation to both organs and skin, causing smokers to age more quickly. Smoking makes skin dry, wrinkled, and greyish- not a pretty picture!

Smoking tends to cluster with other lifestyle risk factors, such as alcohol abuse, physical inactivity, and poor diet. As a result, it places individuals at higher risk for the diseases.

Smokers generally report a variety of after-effects; such as calmness, relaxation, alertness, stimulation, and concentration. In fact, smoking will produce a different effect in each individual depending on ‘what they expect to get’; turning the cigarette into the worlds most popular placebo (satisfying the brains hunger for nicotine being the only ‘relaxing’ factor).

The smoker will then use these expectations as a means to continue the habit.


Smoking And Pregnancy 

Pregnant women who smoke share with their unborn children all the side effects of smoking: nicotine enters the placenta and the amniotic fluid, and fetes blood vessels become constricted, lowering fatal blood supply and decreasing the amount of oxygen and nutrients available to the baby.

After birth, smoking is still a risk factor. Nicotine enters the breast milk and can decrease the amount produced in nursing mothers.

Babies, whose mothers smoke are at higher risk for asthma, colds, ear infections, and other respiratory diseases, as well as sudden infant death syndrome.

Women who smoke are more likely to begin menopause before the age of 45 years, which puts them at increased risk of osteoporosis and heart disease, Norwegian researchers report.

The data also suggest that the earlier a woman stops smoking the more protected she is from early menopause.

In addition, female smokers have a greater risk for miscarriages, low-birthweight babies, adverse menstrual symptoms, osteoporosis and transmission of HIV-1 from mother to child.



“Cigarette smoking”,

“Early menopause, association with tobacco smoking, coffee consumption and other lifestyle factors: a cross-sectional study,” Thea F Mikkelsen1*, Sidsel Graff-Iversen2, Johanne Sundby1 and Espen Bjertness, BMC Public Health 2007, 7:149

“Saliva – a pivotal player in the pathogenesis of oropharyngeal cancer”, A Z Reznick1, O Hershkovich and R M Nagler, 2004,

“Erectile Dysfunction Linked To Smoking”, ScienceDaily (July 27, 2007)

Kirk, J. K., Spangler, J. G. & Celestino, F. S. Prevalence of osteoporosis risk factors and treatment among women aged 50 years and older. Pharmacotherapy 20, 405–409 (2000).

Mishra, G. D., Dobson, A. J. & Schofield, M. J. Cigarette smoking, menstrual symptoms and miscarriage among young women. Aust. N. Z. J. Public Health 24, 413–420 (2000).

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Burns, D. N. et al. Cigarette smoking, premature rupture of membranes and vertical transmission of HIV-1 among women with low CD4+ levels. J. AIDS 7, 718–726 (1994).

“Effects of cigarette smoke on the immune system”, Mohan Sopori, 2002,

“Smoking is causing impotence, miscarriages, and infertility”, Zosia Kmietowicz, BMJ. 2004


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