Every Nov. 15, the Great American Smokeout reminds America's almost 44 million smokers that it's time to quit. Besides being responsible for 30 percent of all U.S. cancer deaths, according to the American Cancer Society, smoking harms just about every organ and system in the body - literally from the top of your balding, graying head to the tips of your oxygen-starved toes.
When you extinguish your last cigarette, within 20 minutes your heart rate and blood pressure fall. Then a cascade of good things starts to happen within hours and continues for years. Every day that you don't smoke, cells, blood, tissues and organs continue to recover from the chronic oxygen deprivation and cell damage caused by tobacco's estimated 4,000 toxins and chemicals - some naturally occurring, some added during processing.
"Smoking affects so many organs, it's just remarkable," said Dr. Lary Robinson, a thoracic surgeon at the Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. "The lungs are extraordinary at taking inhaled substances, chemicals, and funneling them into the blood. That's why so many cancers unrelated to the lungs are caused by smoking. ''
And, of course, some of these diseases are found in people who get their smoke second-hand. Children suffer particularly, with higher rates of asthma, ADHD, hearing impairment and certain birth defects.
Head to shoulders
-Hair: Premature graying; hair loss in men
-Eyes: Cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye, lazy eye, conjunctivitis
-Ears: Hearing loss
-Head: Cancers of the head (includes sinuses), neck, throat, larynx/vocal chords, tongue and mouth
-Voice: chronic laryngitis, hoarseness
-Teeth: Gum disease, tooth loss
-Brain: Stroke risk rises; same with dementia
-Poor skin tone, leading to sagging, wrinkled skin
-Poor skin color
-Wrinkles and lines, particularly around the eyes and mouth
-Yellow teeth, fingernails
-Cancers of the esophagus, lungs, kidney, bladder, pancreas, stomach, colon and blood (AML, a form of leukemia linked to smoking)
-Lung diseases including pneumonia, bronchitis, asthma, COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), emphysema, upper respiratory infections in general
-Heart disease - narrowing of blood vessels puts smokers at increased risk for heart attacks - high blood pressure, high cholesterol
-Squamous cell skin cancers
-Possible increase in risk for breast cancer in women, prostate cancer in men
-Cervical cancer, infertility in women
-Erectile dysfunction in men
-Smoking during pregnancy means higher rates of miscarriage, stillbirth, preterm birth and low birth weight
-Peripheral artery disease makes walking painful because of decreased blood flow to legs, feet
-Wound healing is slower, a particular problem for diabetics
-Increases risk of osteoporosis
Head to shoulders
- Hair: Premature graying; hair loss in men
- Eyes: Cataracts, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye, lazy eye, conjunctivitis
- Ears: Hearing loss
- Head: Cancers of the head (includes sinuses), neck, throat, larynx/vocal chords, tongue and mouth
- Voice: chronic laryngitis, hoarseness
- Teeth: Gum disease, tooth loss
- Brain: Stroke risk rises; same with dementia
- Poor skin tone leads to sagging, wrinkled skin.
- Leathery-looking skin
- Poor skin color
- Wrinkles and lines, particularly around the eyes and mouth
- Yellow teeth, finger nails
- Bad breath
* * *
Vani Simmons, a researcher with Moffitt's Tobacco Research and Intervention Program, says people who combine quitting with some form of counseling and medication, such as nicotine replacement or prescription drugs like Zyban or Chantix, have the most success. "The counseling is important because you learn how to cope when you have the urge to smoke,'' she said.
Go to the American Cancer Society's site, cancer.org/smokeout, for help quitting.