Over 28 million American adults smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). If that number seems formidable, consider that it’s actually dropped by almost 10% since the early 2000s.
Is it a trend in the right direction? Overall, yes. But cigarette smoking still claims almost half a million lives in the U.S. every year.
In our home state of Indiana, despite all the warnings about the hazards of smoking, we still have work to do. In the past decade, I’ve seen an increase rather than a decrease in smoking among my patients and in the community. Recent data confirms my observations:
- Indiana is consistently included in “Tobacco Nation,” a label applied to a dozen states whose residents smoke at higher rates than smokers elsewhere in the U.S. — nearly 500 more cigarettes a year.
- Indiana is also often included in the top five states with the highest number of adult vapers. Almost 20% of Indiana high schoolers vape as well, a number that’s constantly climbing. Many of these kids alternate between vaping and cigarettes.
How Smoke Affects Your Body
Let’s go beyond the stats and consider how inhaling smoke or vaping nicotine can impact your health.
Everyone knows smoking cigarettes is bad, but inhaling any kind of smoke is damaging to the body. When heated or burned, tobacco generates more than 7,000 chemicals in the resulting smoke. These chemicals penetrate the sensitive mucous membranes in a smoker’s mouth (gums, tongue), sinuses, and airways (throat, lungs).
The nicotine, carbon monoxide, reactive oxidants, and dozens of other chemicals in cigarette smoke combine to make cigarettes highly addictive. Inhaled or ingested, this chemical cocktail causes chronic inflammation within the airways and throughout the body. Chronic inflammation leads to cellular injury, which makes us less resistant to infection.
The potential outcomes include cancers of the lungs, tongue, throat, head, and neck; emphysema; harm to the heart and blood vessels; complications during pregnancy; disorders in the eyes, bones, bladder, and digestive system; and premature aging of the skin and other organs.
Also risky is marijuana smoke, even if used for medicinal purposes. Because marijuana cigarettes are unfiltered, studies show they can pollute the lungs with more tar than cigarettes. Also, pot smokers tend to inhale a greater volume of smoke — and hold it longer and more deeply — than a typical cigarette smoker.
(A side note: Are you a non-smoker but live or work with someone who smokes? By proximity, you’re exposed to the same harmful chemicals as the smoker, so secondhand smoke can be equally destructive to your health. Also watch out for smoke from your barbecue, fireplace, and even wildfires. You and your family can experience harmful effects from those as well.)
The Vaping Alternative
Vaping’s bound to be safer than smoking, right? Unfortunately, no. Vaping is not an improvement over cigarettes.
E-cigarettes and other vape products typically work by heating a liquid, which produces an aerosol for the vapers to inhale. Like cigarette smoke, that aerosol contains volatile compounds, tiny cancer-causing chemical particles, and even traces of heavy metals like lead and tin. It’s estimated that using a disposable vape that delivers 600 nicotine puffs is the equivalent of smoking two packs of cigarettes.
Both smoking and vaping involve igniting and inhaling a substance that’s foreign to the body. There’s just no safe way to do that.
So, although technically “smoke-free,” vaping can be just as harmful and addictive as cigarette smoking.
Protecting Yourself and Loved Ones
Smoking is arguably the most preventable cause of disease and death in the U.S. So, as the CDC advises, “If you’ve never smoked or used other tobacco products or e-cigarettes, don’t start.”
But what if you already smoke or vape regularly? How can you protect your health and the health of family, friends, coworkers, and others nearby who may be affected by your secondhand smoke?
Your best protection is to stop smoking or vaping. But that’s easier said than done.
According to the American Lung Association, most smokers continually think about quitting or actively try to do so. But nicotine is such a complex addiction — physical, behavioral, mental, and social — that it’s tough to break.
A smoke-free alternative, such as gum or a patch, can help you start weaning off nicotine. Within 20 minutes of quitting cigarettes, your heart rate and blood pressure drop, and your body begins the recovery process. After two weeks, your airways begin to heal as harmful levels of inflammation start to resolve. Within two months, circulation improves, and in a year or less, your lungs may begin to regain normal function with a reduced risk of infection.
This is where concierge care and your relationship with Priority Physicians can help.
How Concierge Care Can Help You Quit Smoking
Your Priority Physicians encourage you to discuss the types of situations that cause you to smoke — or that may trigger you to restart your habit. We reinforce the benefits you’ll gain by quitting smoking and review with you specific FDA-approved pharmaceuticals and other reliable tools that can assist. We help you develop your cessation plan and guide you through the journey.
Research shows that this approach works: Patients who have a plan and combine behavioral treatment with the right cessation medications are more successful at quitting than smokers who try to manage the process unaided.
Your Priority Physicians look forward to helping you break the habit.