A chart displaying the effects of tobacco on the lungs

Tobacco Smoking Effects – Lung Cancer Risks

Tobacco kills more than 8 million people each year. Of those, 7 million are directly from tobacco use, while over 1 million are from secondhand smoke exposure. In fact, smoking tobacco is the most significant cause of lung cancer worldwide, contributing to 90% of lung cancer deaths. Additionally, tobacco is a major contributor to diseases such as other cancers, heart disease, and respiratory disorders.

Because tobacco contains addictive ingredients, prolonged and even one-time usage of tobacco products can lead to life-lasting health issues such as smoker’s lungs. Although many people understand the consequences of tobacco use, many still struggle with addiction. We understand not wanting to quit smoking, as it often feels good. Additionally, we understand that giving up tobacco can be a difficult feat. Whether or not you are trying to quit, it is essential to understand the unique effects of tobacco products on the human body. Discover the different types of tobacco products, what tobacco is, and how tobacco contributes to lung cancer and other adverse health effects.

What is Tobacco?

Tobacco products and it’s smoking effects are a public health epidemic that, unfortunately, plagues millions around the world as ingredients in tobacco products are highly addictive. In fact, 22.3% of the global population used tobacco in 2020. Although this is a public health threat, companies target certain sectors of the population when selling tobacco products. Over 80% of the world’s 1.3 billion tobacco users live in low- and middle-income countries.

Additionally, tobacco use has been linked to poverty by redirecting household spending from basic needs such as food and shelter to tobacco products. Also alarming, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), about 3.08 million middle and high school students use at least one tobacco product, which directly contributes to early addiction and premature deaths.

Indigenous peoples in North America originally grew and used tobacco leaves long before Europeans as a healing herb. Tobacco is a plant that contains nicotine, an addictive drug with both stimulant and depressive qualities. Vendors can prepare tobacco in several different ways, depending on how it will be consumed:

  • Cigarettes – Finely cut tobacco
  • Asbestos Filter Cigarettes – Filters made with asbestos fibers
  • Cigars – Whole tobacco leaves
  • Snuff – Tobacco ground into powder
  • Chewing Tobacco – Shredded or twisted tobacco
  • Hookah – Flavored and sweetened

Why Does Tobacco Cause Cancer?

Tobacco use is directly linked to cancers such as lung cancer, colon cancer, mouth cancer, and much more. Tobacco contains several carcinogens that settle in the lungs when smoked and other organs when ingested. These carcinogens lead to the development of cancer cells which form tumor growths.

When a user burns tobacco, the heat forms a dark sticky tar. The tar is a combination of hundreds of poisonous chemicals. When the user smokes tobacco, tar is released as tiny particles that can damage whatever comes into contact, including the lungs, teeth, and fingers. Additionally, smoking tobacco forms carbon monoxide (CO), which replaces oxygen in the red blood cells when inhaled. If you do not smoke tobacco but rather ingest it, there are also adverse side effects. Nicotine is dangerous when swallowed, and it only takes 40 milligrams of nicotine, or about the amount in two cigarettes, to be fatal.

Whether you smoke or ingest tobacco products, nicotine speeds up the heart. However, CO deprives the heart of oxygen, making the pulmonary system work vigorously. This combination can result in strained body systems, which is less than ideal as your body will need an excess of energy to fight cancerous cells and tumors that can develop when using tobacco products.

Short-Term Effects of Smoking Tobacco

Many people do not understand the short-term effects of smoking tobacco products. Whether you ingest or smoke tobacco products, it immediately affects the mouth, the brain, and other parts of the body. The short-term effects of tobacco include:

Long-Term Effects of Smoking Tobacco

All forms of tobacco usage result in long-term lung health risks. The risk of side effects increases with the amount and length of time tobacco is used, and the risk is highest for cigarette users. Over time, nicotine exposure can change the parts of your brain that help you handle stress, learn effectively, and exhibit self-control.

Long-term use of tobacco:

  • Is the primary cause of lung cancer.
  • Increases the risk of colon, mouth, throat, pancreas, bladder, and cervix cancers.
  • Is the leading cause of chronic bronchitis and emphysema.
  • May cause heart disease and stroke.
  • Leads to osteoporosis.
  • Negatively affects the immune system.
  • May clog the arteries.
  • Decreases the amount of vitamin C in the body.
  • Increases the risk of pregnancy medical issues and the risk that the baby will be underweight or die in infancy.

Does Tobacco Have Nicotine?

All tobacco products have nicotine, including cigarettes, cigars, e-cigarettes like JUULs, and smokeless tobacco. Nicotine is the ingredient in tobacco products that makes them highly addictive.

It is addictive as it changes the way the brain works, causing cravings for more. Nicotine is a neurotransmitter, that increases the brain’s levels of dopamine and stimulates its reward centers. The bloodstream rapidly absorbs nicotines and quickly delivers messages to the brain so that nicotine levels peak within the first ten seconds of usage. However, the satisfying side effects of nicotine dissipate quickly, leaving the user craving more.

Additionally, people often build a resistance to nicotine over time. The more you are exposed to nicotine, the more of it you will need to produce the desired effects. This craving leads to addiction and makes it difficult for nicotine and tobacco users to quit. That’s why the best way to prevent lung cancer, is to not smoke in the first place.

Is Smoking a Cigarette Bad for You?

Cigarettes are the most commonly used smoking tobacco product in the United States. Smoking cigarettes is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, causing over 480,000 deaths yearly.

Some of the most fundamental ingredients in cigarettes include tobacco, chemical additives, a filter, and paper wrapping. However, there are over 7,000 toxic chemicals in cigarettes, including more than 70 that are directly related to cancer, called carcinogens. There can be anywhere from 8 to 20 milligrams of nicotine found in a cigarette, with an average of 12 milligrams. Some of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke include:

  • Ammonia
  • Arsenic
  • Benzene
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Formaldehyde
  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Lead
  • Nicotine
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • Radioactive elements, like polonium-210
  • Tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs)

Many of these dangerous chemicals can cause cancer. Common conditions related to tobacco and cigarettes include heart disease, lung cancer, stroke, chronic bronchitis, and much more. Although these diseases develop from exposure to cigarette smoke, most of the toxic substances come from burning the tobacco leaves themselves. Because the most toxic substances come from tobacco leaves being burned, secondhand smoke exposure is a prevalent issue that has lasting effects. According to the CDC, over 2.5 million people who did not smoke have died from health problems caused by secondhand smoke exposure since 1964.

Although it can be difficult, there are several benefits to quitting smoking. When you quit smoking, you regain lung function, heart function, your body’s ability to fight disease, and much more.

Dangers of Cigar Smoking

In 2020, an estimated 3.5% of adults and 3.4% of middle and high schoolers currently smoked cigars. In 2022, cigars were the second most commonly used smoking tobacco product on the markets, utilized mainly by middle and high schoolers. Cigars come in desirable flavors such as cherry, vanilla, licorice, and much more, despite bans from government entities, and are still being consumed. Anti-tobacco advocates have urged lawmakers to halt the manufacturing of flavored cigars to reduce the number of young users and new lung cancer cases.

Cigar smoke presents similar toxic chemicals and carcinogens risk factors as cigarettes, however, in different amounts. Tobacco vendors often age the tobacco and wrapping of cigars for an average of 3 years before rolling. Therefore, cigar tobacco has high concentrations of some nitrogen compounds (nitrates and nitrites). When cigars are smoked, they exude tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs), some of which are the most potent cancer-causing carcinogens.

Additionally, a cigar wrapper is less porous than that of a cigarette, meaning the smoking tobacco does not burn as wholly, resulting in higher concentrations of nitrogen oxides, ammonia oxides, ammonia, carbon monoxide, and tar. Smoking cigars can lead to:

  • Lung cancer
  • Larynx cancer
  • Tooth loss
  • Gum disease
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Cancer in the oral cavities
  • Esophageal cancer

Smokeless Tobacco Effects on the Body

There are over 4,000 chemicals in smokeless products, and as many as 30 of these have been linked to cancer. Most smokeless tobacco products are placed in the mouth between the gum, cheek, or lips rather than smoked. Therefore, when using smokeless tobacco products, the mouth tissues absorb nicotine and other chemicals. There are several types of smokeless tobacco, such as snuff, dip, and chewing tobacco.

Smokeless tobacco is most often associated with side effects such as gum disease, bad breath, and tooth loss. We understand that these cancer symptoms can be uncomfortable and even embarrassing. Learn more about the different types of smokeless tobacco and the effects it could have on your body long-term.

Tobacco Snuff

Snuff is a smokeless tobacco that is either finely ground or shredded tobacco leaves. Vendors often scent or flavor the snuff and make it moist or dry to cater to its users. Moist snuff is often placed in the mouth, whereas dry snuff is inhaled through the nose. Because snuff is also placed in the mouth or sniffed through the nose, this form of tobacco can lead to:

  • Mouth cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Gum disease
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

Chewing Tobacco Effects

Chew, or chewing tobacco, is sold as loose, braided, or compressed leaves. A user places chewing tobacco between the cheek and gum. When using chewing tobacco, saliva builds up in the mouth, which users either spit or swallow. Chewing tobacco may increase the risk of:

  • Mouth cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Gum disease
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke

Lung Diseases Caused by Smoking Cigarettes

Smoking cigarettes and using other tobacco products can lead to an increased risk of respiratory issues, including:

  • Chronic instructive pulmonary disorder (COPD)
  • Emphysema
  • Chronic bronchitis
  • Lung cancer
  • Asthma

Lung Cancer Center understands how difficult it is to quit smoking tobacco; however, we can help. Our representatives can connect you with local physical and mental health treatment centers. Get in touch with our team today and discover how to take the next steps in your cancer journey.