Cigarette smoke is made up of approximately 4,000 different substances. 40 of these substances can cause cancer. This is what we call carcinogenic.
One substance – nicotine – is incredibly addictive. Nicotine creates a sense of pleasure in the brain, which in turn makes you want more nicotine. Your body also becomes accustomed to a certain amount of nicotine in the blood and it is the speed with which your body breaks down nicotine that makes you need another dose. These two processes are what make the smoker dependent on cigarettes and become addicted to smoking.
Smoking is an addiction caused by nicotine. You breathe nicotine into your lungs and it travels to your brain via your bloodstream. This happens really quickly. Nicotine reaches your brain within 10 seconds of you inhaling it. Once there, the nicotine generates an enjoyable feeling but once a cigarette is finished, the effect of the nicotine wears off very quickly. So you find yourself craving another cigarette. How long does the feeling last? That depends on how many cigarettes you smoke on average per day. It also makes a difference how you distribute your cigarettes throughout the day. It becomes a habit when doing certain things you do every day; then you start to crave a cigarette at the same time; you start finding it hard to do these things without having a cigarette; smoking has become an integral part of your life. That is all part of the addiction.back to the list
There are three well-known substances in smoke. They are nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar.
When someone smokes, the first place the smoke reaches is the lungs. Here all kinds of substances transfer from the smoke into the blood, including nicotine and carbon monoxide. These two substances have a particularly severe effect on the heart and cardiovascular system. Every year, around 5,000 people die from heart and cardiovascular diseases they have developed as a result of smoking. There are different kinds of heart and cardiovascular diseases:
Nicotine causes your blood vessels to become narrower and also increases blood pressure. Smoking when you have high blood pressure is even more detrimental to your blood vessels. Medicines taken to reduce high blood pressure are less effective if you smoke.
Nicotine damages the internal walls of your blood vessels. They become raw and the body reacts to this the same way it reacts to cuts and scrapes: it makes scabs. Slowly, the blood vessel becomes clogged; the blood is no longer able to pass through freely. This is what's known as atherosclerosis.
The heart is a muscle and a muscle needs oxygen to work properly. If the amount of oxygen reaching your heart decreases then you start getting chest pain. This pain becomes worse with smoking. Nicotine makes your heart beat faster. Carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen in your blood.
During a heart attack, the heart is no longer receiving any oxygen. This is because the blood vessels which carry blood to the heart are clogged. Smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to have a heart attack.
Smokers suffer from strokes more often than non-smokers. This is because of higher blood pressure and a narrowing of the blood vessels. There are two kinds of stroke: brain hemorrhage and cerebral infarction. A brain hemorrhage happens when a blood vessel in the brain becomes ruptured. In a cerebral infarction, a blood clot closes a blood vessel in the brain.
People with intermittent claudication get pain when they walk even for a very short distance. They then need to stand still and wait for the pain to go. Pain in the legs is caused by the changes to the blood vessels. People who smoke are more often affected by changes to their blood vessels.
When you stop smoking, you are no longer inhaling cigarette smoke. This is good for you – you are no longer putting carcinogens into your body. Some parts of your body start to improve quickly. Other parts take a bit longer to recover. However you are also denying your body nicotine and you will start to have withdrawal symptoms which can often make you feel irritable. Your body has learned that nicotine gives you an enjoyable feeling which is why you still feel like you want to smoke. This desire is strong in the beginning but becomes less and less as time goes on.
Body in general
Stopping smoking goes hand-in-hand with your body getting better. Some improvements happen really quickly. Others take a little more time. You should start to feel better quickly and in the long term you have less chance of getting ill or dying from a smoking-related illness.
Half of those who stop smoking have difficulty doing so. That is a good sign: your body is freeing itself from nicotine. It's true that you won't feel great at the start, but that soon passes. Within two to three days there is no longer any nicotine in your body. It takes a bit longer before you get used to not having a cigarette – about two months. When you stop, you might notice these things happening:
To stop smoking is difficult for the majority of smokers. The likelihood of stopping successfully increases dramatically when you have help and support. There is a lot of choice. In the US, your local Health Authority probably runs a variety of stop smoking programs, all of which access free. Find out more in the websites from the Center for Disease Control (visit page ) or from the National Cancer Institute (visit page ).