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Smoking: the facts

smoking-stub-it-out-23-04-12Stub it out. If you puff like a chimney and think you are getting away with it – you’re not. Even the occasional cigarette can kill. Hiding 4,000 chemicals capable of damaging the cells and systems of the human body, cigarette smoke is responsible for approximately five million deaths globally every year.

By 2020, the United Nation’s World Health Organisation (WHO) expects the worldwide death toll to reach 10 million, causing 17.7% of all deaths in developed countries. With Britain clocking in at around 10 million smokers, underestimated by 2.8% due to inaccurate self-reports, such statistics paint the pleasure of a calming cigarette in a very ill light.

While 22% of British males smoke, women are not far behind with 21% lighting up as a habit. Women, on average, smoke mostly between the ages of 20 to 24, whereas men pick up the habit later on, from age 25 to 35.

Smoking costs the NHS more than £5 billion a year, and the bulk of the money spent on smoking-related illness goes to cardiovascular (heart) diseases (£250.8 million), according to a study by the Department of Public Health at Oxford University.

A 2011 study has also shown that the toxic chemicals in tobacco smoke are more likely to give women heart disease than men, despite puffing less.

With 32% of heavy smokers (more than 15 cigarettes a day) lighting up within the first five minutes of waking, the need for cigarettes, and ensuing dependence on our health sector, is leaning towards breaking point.

What’s in a cigarette?

When you inhale, a cigarette burns at 700°C at the tip and around 60°C in the core. This heat breaks down the tobacco to produce 400 toxic substances. As a cigarette burns, the residues are concentrated towards the butt.

The toxins that are most damaging are:

● Tar A carcinogen (substance that causes cancer)
● Nicotine An addictive substance that increases cholesterol levels in your body
● Carbon monoxide A poisonous, colourless, odourless and tasteless gas that reduces oxygen in the body.

Photograph: Shutterstock


This article was first published in at home’s ’Ask the Doctor’ with Dr Christian Jessen in March 2012. [Read the digital edition here]


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