Smoking and your health - the facts

Cigarettes contain over 4000 toxic chemicals, many of which are proven to cause cancer.

Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causing many different illnesses and diseases.

Half of all long-term smokers will die prematurely as a result of smoking – half of whom will be in middle age.

Smoking causes life-threatening illnesses such as cancer, lung disease, heart disease and stroke.

You may be aware that smoking causes lung cancer, but did you know it also causes leukaemia and cancer of the areas labeled in the diagram below?

Cardiovascular (heart and circulatory) disease

Within one minute of starting to smoke, your heart rate begins to rise and it could increase by as much as 30% within the first 10 minutes of smoking.

You are at increased risk of developing a cardiovascular disease even with very light smoking. The following are examples of cardiovascular disease:

  • Heart attack: the average smoker is twice as likely as a non-smoker to have a heart attack.
  • Coronary heart disease: ex-smokers have a reduced risk of coronary heart disease compared with current smokers.
  • Arterial disease: smoking makes you 10 times more likely to develop arterial disease, which causes blockage of the arteries. This can lead to fatal heart attacks, strokes or gangrene of the leg, which often requires amputation.
  • Cardiovascular disease can damage delicate blood vessels in the eye, leading to sight loss.
  • Stroke: the risk of a smoker taking a stroke is twice that of a non-smoker.

Eye disease

People who smoke more than double their risk of developing macular disease, which is the most common cause of severe sight loss. With macular disease, damage to light-sensing cells at the back of the eye results in the loss of central vision. Some forms of this disease cannot be treated.

Smoking is also linked to the development of cataracts. Cataracts are a clouding that develops in the lens of the eye. People with cataracts can only see with reduced clarity and the condition will lead to blindness if left untreated.

Respiratory disease

Lung cancer was almost unheard of before the smoking of manufactured cigarettes became popular.

There are approximately 800 lung cancer deaths in Northern Ireland each year.

Of these, it can be estimated that approximately 700 are caused by smoking.

The risk of getting lung cancer is 15 times greater for a smoker than a non-smoker.

The risk of lung cancer accumulates over time and is related to both daily cigarette consumption and duration of smoking.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

  • This is where the lungs lose their ability to transfer oxygen to the bloodstream.
  • Usually, a chronic cough (‘smokers cough’) or difficulties breathing are signs of COPD. It is best to contact your GP to have a lung function test carried out.

Other diseases/conditions

Other respiratory conditions caused by smoking:

  • pneumonia
  • coughing
  • phlegm
  • wheezing
  • breathlessness
  • asthma

That’s not all – smoking can also cause:

  • angina
  • stomach ulcer
  • age related hearing loss
  • chronic back and neck pain
  • cataracts
  • Crohn’s Disease (inflammatory bowel disease)
  • impotence in men
  • gum disease
  • blindness
  • osteoarthritis (the most common type of arthritis)
  • osteoporosis (weak bones)
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • skin wrinkles
  • fertility problems in men and women
  • early menopause
  • type 2 diabetes (non-insulin dependent)
  • several mental health disorders