Sun | Jul 25, 2021

Terry Baker | Dying to quit smoking

Published:Saturday | June 12, 2021 | 12:06 AM
Dr Terry Baker.
Dr Terry Baker.

It is estimated that every cigarette reduces the life of the smoker by 11 minutes; a pack of 20 reduces life by about three hours and 40 minutes, and a carton of 200 cigarettes reduces life by one and a half days. Many smokers will smoke 50,000-500,000 cigarettes during their lifetime. Thus, the life expectancy of a typical smoker may be reduced by 25 years! While the studies are postulates that rely on averages and make presumptions based on the population and the number of cigarettes smoked, they do show the high cost of smoking.

Tobacco smoke is both toxic, addictive, and harmful to both smokers and non-smokers.

Effects of cigarette smoking are noticeable from the first cigarette puffed. The lining of the nose and upper airway become irritated and may cause a cough. Nicotine enters the blood stream, resulting in an increase in blood pressure and heart rate. Sense of smell may be reduced. When nicotine hits the brain, there is a buzz or excitement which may make smokers temporarily feel relaxed. Carbon monoxide is also produced, which starves the organs of adequate oxygen and may cause palpitations, headaches, confusion, and dizziness.

There are over 5,000 different chemicals in tobacco smoke, of which more than 60 of them are known to be carcinogenic. Some of the toxins in tobacco smoke include arsenic (found in rat poison), formaldehyde (found in embalming fluid), cadmium (batteries), acetic acid (hair dye), acetone (nail polish remover), and nicotine (insecticide).

Nicotine is highly addictive, comparable to cocaine and heroin. The addiction is physical, mental, and behavioural. Cigarettes are one of the few products which can be sold legally, and if used as intended will cause harm and even death. Smoking harms nearly every organ system in the body. It is associated with basically all cancers, including cancer of the lung, oesophagus, mouth, larynx, colon, cervix, pancreas, liver, spleen, stomach, breast and with leukaemia. The likelihood of developing and dying from any of these cancers is greater in people who smoke, compared to non-smokers.


The risk of heart disease, hypertension, heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, eye disease including cataracts, and blindness, rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis with fractures is increased in people who smoke. Men who smoke are more likely to have erectile dysfunction, while women smokers are at increased risk of infertility, complications with pregnancy or having a baby born with birth defects.

Smokers often have a cough, may have gum disease, discolouration and loss of teeth, and ‘smokers’ breath’. Premature ageing, with deep wrinkles, often occurs in people who smoke. There is an increased risk of developing asthma or chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD). COPD is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States, and about 80% of all COPD is caused by cigarette smoking.

Vaping, the inhalation of a vapour created by an electronic cigarette or other vaping device has been touted as being safe. The liquid in cartridges used in these devices usually contains nicotine, flavourings, and chemicals. Vaping is not safe and has been associated with memory impairment, mood swings, irritation and damage of the lungs, and even death. Vaping can lead to smoking cigarettes and may increase the risk of other types of addiction. Current evidence suggests that severe COVID-19 disease is higher among smokers and people who vape.

Many of the risks of cigarette smoking, including cancer, stroke, pneumonia, and heart disease, are seen in second-hand smokers. Children exposed to cigarette smoke are more likely to develop recurrent ear infections and severe asthma. Infants have a higher risk of sudden unexpected death – Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

The risks of cigarette smoking depend on the number of years and the number of cigarettes a person smokes. However, even one cigarette a day can have significant impact on one’s health.

The moment someone stops smoking, there is improvement in body functions. Approximately 20 minutes after quitting, the blood pressure and heart rate decreases. Carbon monoxide levels drop to normal in about 12 hours. Within 2-12 weeks, blood circulation and lung function will improve, and after 1 to 9 months, coughing and shortness of breath will decrease. Some risks of smoking, although reduced, do not return to normal. Quitting improves overall health and can add years to a person’s life.

Quitting protects loved ones, especially children, from the harm of second-hand smoke. It is never too late to quit!

Dr Terry Baker is a consultant internist and pulmonologist and senior medical officer of the National Chest Hospital. Send feedback to