Smoking kills. The health effects of smoking have been well documented and include respiratory and cardiovascular disease, a variety of mouth, throat, and lung cancers, and fertility problems. It's basically impossible to ignore this fact no matter where you live. But the thing that makes smoking so insidious is that because nicotine is addictive, people often smoke for decades if not the rest of their lives. Continuous smoking leads to progressively worse damage to various parts of the body and increasingly higher risks of certain illnesses. This is a simple, obvious fact about smoking, but it has very important ramifications for smokers and those who want to beat smoking.
The progressive nature of smoking-related illnesses means the incentives to quit smoking increase over time. Studies have shown that while any exposure to nicotine, such as just smoking once or twice a year, does have some impact on a person's risk of illness, the negative health effects of smoking are cumulative. In other words, the health deterioration a smoker experiences during year two will be more dramatic than during year one, assuming constant rates of consumption. So quitting has the benefit of preventing any further increase in the risk of smoking-related illnesses, and even lets the body begin a natural process of healing to repair some of the damage done.
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The biggest risk of prolonged smoking, although not a direct illness itself, is higher addiction levels, and greater difficulty quitting. The longer you smoke and the earlier you start, the more powerful the mental and chemical dependency is. This directly increases the chances a person won't be able to quit, and thus indirectly increases their odds of contracting a smoking-related disease.
There are adverse health effects even from just one cigarette, although they are minor. From the moment you take the first puff of a cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure increase, blood carbon monoxide levels increase making it more difficult for cells to carry oxygen, muscles in breathing airways contract decreasing physical immune defenses, and the immune system itself is temporarily weakened.
One year of smoking leads to a higher likelihood of serious illnesses. By this time, most smokers report a noticeable, consistent shortness of breath and tend to have reduced lung development and lung function. This early damage to airways can also cause coughing, congestion, and wheezing. Overall physical fitness will have begun to deteriorate in most cases by this point. The repeat strain on the heart stresses this essential muscle and blood vessels. So there is an early spike in the risk of heart disease.
After putting your body through this for five or ten years, the strains of these specific problems become much more likely to cause specific and potentially fatal heart, lung, and breathing problems. But the big change in the increased risk of cancer. The longer you smoke, the more carcinogens enter the body and kill healthy cells. This is directly related to an increased risk of cancer.
The good news is that quitting smoking has immediate, medium-term, and long-term benefits for smokers. These come in the form of ceasing to increase the odds of such illnesses and letting the body attempt to recover. Every cigarette, every extra day smoking increases damage to the body, and the effects are cumulative. So the incentives to quit smoking actually increase over time. In other words, it's never too late to benefit from beating smoking.