You are a smoker.

It should be no surprise to most people that smoking is bad for your health. Most people are aware of lung cancer and emphysema, but you should be aware that smoking is one of the leading causes of heart attacks as well. Cigarette smoke contains chemicals which, Ciggieswhen ignited and inhaled, affect the body’s lungs, circulatory system, and ultimately the heart itself. One of these chemicals is nicotine.  Nicotine is highly addictive; it’s the stuff that keeps you coming back for more.  But it’s also a vasoconstrictor, which means it tightens the walls of the blood vessels.  In the case of smaller blood vessels, nicotine may constrict them to the point of complete occlusion, and the largest collection of these small blood vessels in your body is the neural network of your brain. Upon inhalation, nicotine enters the bloodstream and begins constricting blood vessels. This may even create the temporary light-headed sensation associated with asphyxiation.

Even worse than nicotine, however, is a chemical asphyxiant known as Carbon Monoxide (CO). CO is the same stuff that comes out of the tailpipe of a car, and it is an extremely dangerous chemical.  CO attacks the red blood cells of your body, robbing them of the oxygen you have already breathed in.  Every cell in your body needs oxygen in order to survive.  Red Blood Cells (RBC) are like a bus that delivers the oxygen.  There are receptor sites on the RBC called hemoglobin, which are like seats on the bus.  When the RBC’s arrive at the lungs, they are surrounded by oxygen, and if an oxygen molecule bumps up against the hemoglobin, it will become attached.  Ultimately, a healthy RBC will have all of its “seats” filled with oxygen.  Unfortunately, hemoglobin also likes to attach to CO.  In fact, it has a 250 times greater affinity for CO than for oxygen, and CO will push the oxygen out of its way to take its spot on the RBC.  This means that moments after cigarette smoke enters the lungs, millions of RBC’s are becoming depleted of the very oxygen than they’re designed to carry.  When these RBC’s circulate through the body, they begin to run out of oxygen prematurely.  Cold fingers and toes are just some of the symptoms of a condition known as “Peripheral Vascular Disease.”  These areas become cold because the circulatory system has begun to shut down as the cells begin to die.

Another hazard of smoking (and chewing tobacco) is the creation of blood clots.  With the introduction of these various chemicals into the bloodstream, the RBCs begin to clump together forming what’s known as a thrombus.  If this thrombus begins moving through the bloodstream, it is called an embolus. An embolus that becomes lodged in a smaller blood vessel, blocking the blood flow to an area of the body is called an embolism, and is just about the most dangerous thing you can have in your body.  These blood clots can escape the scrutiny of an x-ray, and you may never even know they exist until one becomes lodged in an artery leading to the heart (causing heart attack) or the brain (causing a stroke). They can happen at any time, with no warning, and at any age.

According to the CDC: 58 million nonsmokers in US are still exposed to secondhand smoke

Although secondhand smoke (SHS) exposure in the United States dropped by half between 1999 to 2000 and 2011 to 2012, one in four nonsmokers -- 58 million people -- are still exposed to SHS, according to a new Vital Signs report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) show that declines in exposure to SHS have been slower and exposure remains higher among children, blacks, those who live in poverty, and those who live in rental housing. The report finds two in every five children aged three to 11 years are still exposed to SHS. The study assessed exposure using cotinine, a marker of SHS found in the blood.

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