All about smoking

Note: There are links to external websites listed below. The Irish Cancer Society is not responsible for the content of external websites.

What’s in a cigarette?

Do you actually know what’s in a cigarette?  A cigarette may look harmless enough and you might think it’s just some tobacco leaves covered in paper but it actually is a stick containing lots of poisonous chemicals.  When a cigarette burns it release up to 4,000 toxic chemicals all which are lethal to the body. We know that 60 of these chemicals can cause cancer.

Read about some of the chemicals found in cigarettes here.

There's also an excellent little interactive tool over on thetruth.com titled "What's in a butt?"

View this short video by Moore Foroige Club called “Moore Foroige Investigates”

What smoking does to the body?

Smoking affects all parts of the body from the top of the head right down to your toes.

Click here to find out some of the effects of smoking

Useful website: Smoking and your body (Source: Quit Victoria, Australia)

Useful website: How smoking affects your lifespan (Source: UW Health, University of Wisconsin-Madison)

Myths and Facts about Smoking

1. Smokers live just as long as non-smokers

MYTH! Smokers on average lose 10-15 years of potential life (Source: Doll and Peto, 1994)

2. Smoking won’t affect my health until I’m much older

MYTH! Even smoking a little can cause damage. Research has shown that even "occasional" smoking, smoking only a few cigarettes per day, or smoking "without inhaling" can increase your risk of heart disease and shorten your life.  Smoking causes bad breath, wrinkles and ageing of the skin in young people.

Another problem with smoking "just a little" is that most people can't do it for long. Cigarettes are physically addictive. Because cigarettes are addictive, most people can't continue to be occasional smokers for long. Soon, they find themselves smoking every day, several times a day. And the more they smoke, the more they are damaging their health.

3. Smoking is bad for your heart

FACT! Smoking increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, arthrosclerosis and CPOD. Short term smoking increases teenagers heart rates by 2-3 beats per minute at rest compared to teens who don’t smoke.

4. Smoking is a personal choice

What do you think? Some people say smoking is a personal choice and you choose to smoke every time. Other people think that once you are addicted to nicotine, it is not a personal choice and that’s why we need to regulate things like marketing, displays, smoking indoors. Also people who breathe in other peoples smoke don’t do it by choice and are involuntarily having their health affected.

5. 50% of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking

MYTH! 95% of lung cancer cases are caused by smoking or second hand smoke. It is rare for someone to have lung cancer who has never smoked. Quitting smoking decreases your risk of developing lung cancer. The longer since you've quit, the greater the decrease in risk.

6. Smoking keeps you thin

MYTH! Smoking doesn’t make you thin. Many people, especially young girls, believe smoking makes them lose weight and keeps them thin. Smoking kills your taste buds and smell and therefore food may not be as appealing, but there is no evidence to show that smoking makes you lose weight.

7. Nicotine is the only dangerous chemical found in cigarettes

MYTH! There are over 4,000 different and dangerous chemicals in cigarettes with over 60 of them known to cause cancer.

Cigarettes contain:

  • arsenic (found in rat poison)
  • ammonia (found in bleach)
  • DDT (found in insecticide)
  • methanol (found in plane fuel)
  • hydrogen cyanide (found in poison in gas chambers)

8. A smoker will be just as fit as a non-smoker when playing sports

MYTH! It is a well-known fact that smoking reduces fitness levels. Carbon monoxide found in cigarettes replaces oxygen in the body which makes it harder for the body to function especially during exercise. Smoking replaces vital oxygen which needs to be absorbed into the blood and muscles. Inhaling smoke also restricts the airways and makes it harder for the person to breathe and take in oxygen. Oxygen is the fuel we need to create energy to keep running, exercising etc! Smoking also increases the heart rate which during exercise can impact on fitness.

9. A nicotine addiction has similar chemical characteristics to a heroin addiction

FACT! Research has shown that how a smoker addicted to nicotine behaves, is similar to a person with a heroin addiction. A person grows a nicotine receptor in their brain which they have to feed regularly with a cigarette as the body will crave it. When a person inhales it takes just 7 seconds for the nicotine to reach the brain. That is why a person has withdrawal symptoms when they quit smoking as the body is craving a hit.

10. Thirty per cent of cancers worldwide are caused by smoking

FACT! Smoking is responsible for 30% of all cancer cases worldwide. Every year in Ireland 6000 people die due to smoking related illnesses. 16 people die every day from smoking in Ireland. Worldwide 6 million people died from smoking in 2011.

11. Rollies are healthier than normal cigarettes

MYTH! Some people mistakenly believe that Roll-your-own cigarettes are less harmful than factory made cigarettes. This could be because they think that loose tobacco is more "natural".  However, many of the 4000 chemicals in cigarette smoke come from burning the tobacco itself. These include tar that causes cancer. Researchers believe that rollies are as harmful as or even more harmful than smoking factory-made cigarettes! 

Find out more information about the harmful effects of smoking here.

Peer pressure and smoking

We all know someone who smokes and most of the time people begin to smoke because they are offered a cigarette. Young people often start to smoke because their friends smoke and they want to fit or they can be pressured by their friends to try smoking.  Sometimes just trying a cigarette can lead to an addiction to smoking and years of trying to give up.  Believe or not 70% of smokers in Ireland wish they never started and want to quit smoking.

Saying no is a hard thing to do especially if you’re in front of a group of people.

Check out how Ross decides to say "No!" to smoking in “Be tough, don’t puff”

Useful website: Find out some tips on how to say "No!" (Source: The Filter, Wales) 

Smoking and your looks

Smoking affects all aspects of your health and can have really bad long term effects.

But smoking also can affect your looks and can have a big effect on your appearance

Smoking can lead to:

  • Sagging and Wrinkly skin
  • Yellow teeth
  • Yellow fingers
  • Smelly breath
  • Fuzzy tongue
  • Dry and brittle hair
  • Red eyes
  • Can worsen psoriasis

Check out leaflet here for more information.

View this short film by ECO-UNESCO on how smoking can affect a young person’s health and looks

Quitting smoking!

Quitting smoking is not easy to do but it can be done!

If you are thinking of quitting smoking there is lots of help available: