MountainView Hospital November 30, 2015

The message is echoed across doctors’ offices, hospitals, schools, the news, ad campaigns, public health initiatives and beyond: Smoking is bad for you.

But while many of us have been inundated with the message, 19.4 percent of adults in Nevada still smoke, according to the United Health Foundation. Nationally, smoking-related diseases cause more than 480,000 deaths every year.

Even if smoking doesn’t kill you, it most likely will dramatically hinder your quality of life. “Smoking damages every single organ — every single cell — in your entire body,” said Dr. George Tu, MD, FCCP, DABSM, a pulmonologist at the Lung Center of Nevada, a division of Comprehensive Cancer Centers of Nevada, and MountainView Hospital.

Because of its wide-reaching effects in the body, smoking also causes and contributes to many lesser-known diseases and conditions.

Your heart and lungs aren’t the only organs in danger

There are 600 ingredients and 7,000 chemicals in the average cigarette, the American Lung Association reports. At least 69 of those chemicals are known carcinogens. “Each drag on a cigarette distributes these chemicals throughout the entire body, via the bloodstream, in a matter of seconds,” Tu said.

Smoking affects the entire body, including:

Eyes:

Smoking can cause cataracts, macular degeneration, dry eyes and other eye diseases. Both cataracts and macular degeneration can cause blindness.

Bones:

Smoking contributes to the weakening of bone tissue and decreases bone density, which means smokers are more susceptible to broken bones and osteoporosis.

Digestive system:

Smoking can cause stomach ulcers, acid reflux and insulin resistance, which greatly increases the risk for Type 2 diabetes. Smokers are 30 to 40 percent more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers. Furthermore, continued smoking makes diabetes very difficult to manage, which can lead to serious complications such as kidney disease, loss of blood flow in the extremities, nerve damage and retinopathy, which also causes blindness.

Sexual organs in men:

Smoking can cause erectile dysfunction because of damage to blood vessels in the penis. It also can lower sperm count and damage genetic material in the sperm, which can cause infertility.

Sexual organs in women:

Smoking lowers estrogen levels, which can affect fertility and lead to early menopause. Smoking also is linked strongly to cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society reports that women who smoke are twice as likely to develop cervical cancer as nonsmokers, and tobacco byproducts are found in the cervical mucus of female smokers.

Immune system:

Smoking increases a person’s white blood cell count, and white blood cells defend the body from infection. The increase signals that the body of a smoker is under constant stress as it tries to fight inflammation and irritation caused by cigarettes. The high levels of tar found in cigarettes also suppress the immune system, leaving smokers more vulnerable to colds, flus and other infections, as well as autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis. Considering the other diseases smoking can cause, a compromised immune system is especially dangerous.

Cancers caused by smoking

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains that if nobody smoked, one of every three cancer deaths in the United States would be prevented.

Besides lung cancer, smoking also is known to cause the following cancers: bladder, blood, cervix, colorectal, esophagus, kidney, larynx, liver, mouth, pancreas, stomach.

Heart and lungs

The two most important organs at stake are the heart and the lungs.

“Smoking increases blood pressure and heart rate, which can cause heart attacks, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases,” Tu said.

The five-year survival rate for lung cancer is only 17.8 percent, and more than half of people diagnosed with lung cancer will die within a year. That’s likely because lung cancer rarely is diagnosed in its early stages.

“Early-stage lung cancer usually doesn’t cause any symptoms,” Tu said. “Symptoms like coughing up blood present in the later stages of the disease. This can make it very difficult to detect, so it’s important for people who are at-risk to be screened regularly.”

Lung cancer screenings are offered at a couple, select hospitals in the Valley and might be covered by Medicare and some insurance plans.

Are E-cigarettes safer?

Cigarette smoking rates are on the decline among teenagers in the United States, but smoking e-cigarettes, or “vaping,” is a rising trend.

Although e-cigarettes are marketed as a safer smoking alternative that uses nicotine-laced vapor instead of smoke, there is no evidence the practice is safer. “Smoking e-cigarettes is still damaging and potentially even more so, because they’re unfiltered and the formulas used for the vapor fluid are not regulated,” Tu said.

How to quit

“The most important thing is to be dedicated to quitting and to have support from family and friends,” Tu said. “Cigarettes are highly addictive, but 65 percent of the struggle is mental.”

Different methods work for different people, but nicotine substitutes (such as gum or the patch) and holistic methods (such as hypnosis or acupuncture) are tried and true. There also are prescription drugs available to help with the physical component of smoking cessation.

In addition, Tu recommends calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW, a toll-free, 24-hour hotline staffed with smoking cessation counselors.

Source: Centers for Disease control and prevention

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