Malaysian Beauty & Lifestyle Blogger

The Harmful Ingredients in Cigarettes and the Effects of Smoking on your Health

Even if you are not a smoker, I’m sure you know at least one person who smokes in your life. I have always been surrounded by people who smoked cigarettes regularly. It’s not that I had purposely placed myself in that situation but somehow that is just how things ended up.

I myself am not a smoker but I am inhaling second-hand smoke everyday from being in public spaces, mamak, etc. There’s this one day I was just enjoying my dinner at a restaurant along the street market of the Curve when I smelt cigarette smoke. Even though the smoking table was seated a few metres away from me, the wind brought it to my table.

However, the worst was from at home as it was the biggest and closest exposure especially during MCO when everyone was working from home and staying in all day long.

I mean, we all know the problems that come from second-hand smoke but it was such a long-term thing and so far away. You don’t see it happening immediately and just brush it off. Until one day it got so bad that I have even begun coughing whenever someone around me smoked and I caught a whiff of it. This was a turning point in my life when I truly became concerned about the long-term health effects of breathing it in.

You think you can avoid it by standing further away but like at the restaurant, smoke goes everywhere and you’re breathing it in. Opening a window is not enough. I can certainly vouch for that.

Furthermore, you become immune to the smell after a while. I never understood why people told me they can smell me entering the room. Like how is that possible? I don’t smell anything at all! After stopping being around smokers, it took me months to realise that everything on me – my clothes, my hair, my car, everything – ALL smelt like smoke. It seeps into your pores and is super stubborn. Had to wash my clothes many times to remove the smell. I cannot even imagine what it has done to my health without me realising it.

What is smoke?

Actually what is cigarette smoke, what is in it and why is it harmful to us when inhaled? Why do I keep coughing whenever I breathe in cigarette smoke? When someone lights a cigarette, it actually goes above 900°C to burn the tobacco and the combustion releases 6,000 different chemicals in its smoke. Out of this 6 thousand, 100 have already been flagged by health authorities to be harmful and are potential causes of smoking-related diseases. These cancer-causing chemicals include arsenic, ammonia, lead, formaldehyde and much more, mostly coming from the burning of tobacco leads, not from the additives included in tobacco products.

So if you smoke, don’t even talk to me about the harms of eating processed meat or instant noodles okay?

The American Cancer Society says that cigarette smoking accounts for almost all tobacco-related illnesses and deaths in the United States. Additionally, studies have shown that 'light' or 'low-tar' cigarettes do not actually have lower health risks so don’t be duped by these.

Is Nicotine itself dangerous?

Nicotine occurs naturally in tobacco and is released when tobacco is heated or burnt. It can be absorbed through the lungs, mouth or skin into the bloodstream where it travels through the body and to the brain. Nicotine triggers the release of dopamine and when used repeatedly causes addiction. However, addiction can be reversed when you stop using it.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most of the dangers of smoking are due to the hundreds of toxic chemicals in the cigarette smoke and not the nicotine. One of the harmful chemicals found in cigarette smoke is nitrosamines, which causes many kinds of cancers. Switching to nicotine replacements will not cause cancer or lung disease like smoking. It is also much less likely to cause heart diseases compared to continued smoking.

Although nicotine is not the primary cause of smoking-related diseases or excessively harmful on its own, it does have its own problem such as increasing the heart rate and blood pressure.

What is cigarettes tar?

We often hear the word tar when talking about cigarettes but what is it? Before reading up, I admit I thought it was the same tar used to make roads.

Actually tar is the weight of particulate matter in cigarette smoke minus the nicotine and water content. Since Heat-Not-Burn (HNB) Products produce vapor instead of smoke, thus HNB products do not produce cigarettes tar.

How do you reduce harm from tobacco?

When talking about tobacco harm reduction, the real keyword here is reduce. If you are looking for alternatives to smoking cigarettes, they include heat-not-burn technology and products.

After reading about heat-not-burn products, I found out that tobacco releases nicotine at temperatures below 247°C. If you merely heat the tobacco instead of burning the tobacco at 900°C, it also does not produce the smelly smoke!! In fact, heating the tobacco is enough to produce a vapor containing nicotine, which is why most people choose to smoke. You do not actually need the smoke?? Heat-not-burn technology still generates nicotine to slowly wean off addiction but without a bulk of the harmful chemicals.

Of course, quitting tobacco and nicotine is the best choice for the sake of your health and everyone else’s around you. However, I know it is a difficult journey and most people cannot just quit cold turkey. It can be a stepping stone to stopping entirely. While you are trying to quit, it is better to reduce the amount of harmful chemicals that enter your body.

Studies have shown that people who switched to heat-not-burn products were more likely to quit smoking. Smokers who made the switch were two to four times more likely to have quit smoking and by the end of the study, 17.3% of smokers in the study had quit smoking!

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also been conducting ongoing research on other tobacco products which are potentially less harmful such as electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS), or e-cigarettes. 

According to the FDA, many studies suggest e-cigarettes and non-combustible tobacco products may be less harmful than combustible cigarettes and the overall incidence of serious adverse effects related to e-cigs is low.

So, if you care about your loved ones, you should consider tobacco harm reduction. Especially when there are alternatives to help you now. Let’s work together to achieve a smoke-free future.

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