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The Impact of Smoking on Your Health

an extinct cigarette in an ashtray

According to a Health Canada report (2015-2016) , 4.6 million Canadians still use tobacco. And while the trend has been on downward trajectory for the past two decades, smoking remains the leading preventable cause of disease and early death in Canada.

Tobacco use results in many serious and life-threatening chronic diseases including certain types of cancer (e.g., lung cancer), chronic respiratory diseases such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease.

Smoking also has a significant negative impact on your quality of life and well-being. The adverse effects of tobacco include:

  • bad breath
  • fatigue
  • decreased energy
  • decreased sense of taste and smell
  • constant cough
  • shortness of breath
  • fertility problems
  • menstrual problems
  • erectile problems

Each year, more than 50% of long-term smokers die prematurely from tobacco-related diseases. Smoking can also affect the health of non-smokers who are exposed to second-hand smoke.

Tobacco Smoke – A Toxic Cocktail

The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has determined that cigarette smoke consists of over 4,000 chemicals, 70 of which cause or promote cancer. The most dangerous ones are:

  • nicotine
  • tar
  • benzene
  • formaldehyde
  • hydrocyanic acid
  • carbon monoxide

Nicotine: An Addictive Drug

Smoking is an addiction just like addictions to alcohol or other drugs such as cocaine. Nicotine acts in your brain and nervous system and is the active component in tobacco that triggers and sustains your need to smoke.

Effects of Nicotine

Nicotine is absorbed by your lungs and then circulates through your blood system before it reaches the brain and other organs of the body. After inhaling, nicotine can reach your brain in as little as 10 seconds and produces several reactions such as increased heart rate and blood pressure, a constriction of your blood vessels causing a temperature drop in your hands and feet, changes in your brain waves and a relaxing of your muscles.

If you’re a new smoker, you cough, you become dizzy, and your throat is dry and irritated. You have nausea, muscle weakness, abdominal cramps and headaches. These symptoms lessen as you get used to nicotine.

Two Types of Addiction

Cigarettes cause two very important types of addiction that need to be differentiated: a psychological or behavioural addiction and a physical or pharmacological addiction.

A psychological addiction develops because you learn to associate smoking with enjoyable moments (end of a meal, social activity, telephone conversation or relaxation). Nicotine can also give you the impression that it is comforting you and reducing your anxiety, boredom and stress.

Physical addiction occurs very quickly because nicotine causes chemical and biological changes in your brain such as producing endorphins that are normally produced naturally. These “false endorphins” will give you a sense of well-being or a temporary boost of energy. But in the long term, your brain learns to produce fewer natural endorphins and you need more and more nicotine to compensate.

If you do not smoke for a few hours, you will experience withdrawal symptoms. Many people continue to smoke to avoid these unpleasant sensations.

Quitting is possible!

You decided to quit smoking? Congratulations, you have just taken the most important step! The following tips can help.

  • Within twenty minutes – your blood pressure drops to a level similar to what it was before your last cigarette
  • After eight hours – carbon monoxide (a toxic gas) in your blood returns to normal
  • After twenty-four hours – your risk of heart attack starts to drop
  • A week to three months later – the airways in your lungs relax, your lung capacity increases and you can breathe easily!
  • One to nine months later – your cough decreases and your lungs function even better
  • A year later – your risk of coronary heart disease is halved compared to that of a smoker
  • Five years later – your risk of stroke is the same as someone who has never smoked
  • Ten years later – your risk of dying from lung cancer is much lower, as is your risk of dying from mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney or pancreatic cancer.
  • Fifteen years later – your risk of coronary heart disease is similar to someone who has never smoked.

Prepare, plan and, above all, do not give up!

The medication that can help you

Even if you do not intend to use them, ask your doctor or pharmacist about the available pharmaceutical options. Some medication is designed to help reduce withdrawal symptoms or simply decrease your desire to smoke:

  • patches, gum and nicotine inhaler
  • prescription drugs (bupropion or varenicline)

Choose a Date

When you have made a firm decision to stop smoking, set a stop date that will be your first day without smoking. Choose a day that is relatively stress-free, where your daily routine can allow you to focus on quitting smoking. This will give you greater protection from factors that encourage you to smoke.

It is your decision to make

No one can force you to quit smoking. It’s a choice you have to make for your own health and well-being.

What are your triggers?

An alcoholic beverage, stress, the need to relieve anxiety, whatever triggers your need to smoke, recognize them and avoid these triggers. It may be useful to note that intense cigarette cravings usually last only 5 to 6 minutes and you can easily distract yourself until the craving passes.

Drink lots of water!

Drink lots of water to help eliminate nicotine and other chemicals from your body faster. Add crushed ice to your water to ease your desire to smoke.

Breathe deeply

When your cravings are intense, breathe deeply 2 or 3 times and think of something pleasant to help you relax.


Physical activity is essential and generates natural endorphins. Start improving your fitness level with moderate exercise.

Avoid people who smoke and places where smoking is allowed

During the first few weeks, you will be very vulnerable. Remember that this is only for a short time, the time you need to learn how to trust yourself and enjoy life without nicotine.

Relapse is not a defeat!

Relapse is a learning experience and is part of your quitting process.

With your new experience at the back of your mind, you can prevent situations that encourage you to smoke and avoid them in the future.

Manage your withdrawal symptoms

When you stop smoking, the nicotine levels in your body will drop and you may experience withdrawal symptoms. Although they can be unpleasant, these symptoms are temporary and are a sign that your body is healing and your nicotine addiction is weakening.

Withdrawal symptoms can be difficult to tolerate and many smokers fail to quit on their first attempt because they were not well prepared. If you recognize symptoms, you can manage and tolerate them more successfully.

Generally speaking, your body completely flushes out nicotine after 4 or 5 days. Most withdrawal symptoms occur during the first week after quitting and usually disappear after two to four weeks. These include, but are not limited to:

  • irresistible desire to smoke
  • dizziness and shakes
  • headache
  • anxiety and irritability
  • nervousness and agitation
  • difficulty concentrating and sleeping
  • gastrointestinal problems
  • increased appetite
  • light depression

Most importantly, be patient because you may feel the desire to smoke for several months, even if the withdrawal symptoms have disappeared.

For more information on nicotine addiction:

Quebec lung association (a Biron Health Group partner)

Public Health Agency of Canada

If you have any questions or need more information, please don’t hesitate to call our customer service number at 1 800 463-7674.

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