Expert advice Heal

Say No To Tobacco

Dr Roshan Jain

Senior Consultant Psychiatrist, Apollo Hospitals, Bengaluru

7 min read

Smoking Kills,” we already know that, don’t we? It’s repeated over and over again, it’s plastered onto cigarette boxes, and it’s a leading cause of cancer. This deadly habit has a chain reaction of damaging results in almost every organ of our body. Some of the effects of this habit can vary from person-to-person and are dependent on factors such as; weight, underlying health conditions and the extent of tobacco use.

Let’s get this straight first. Tobacco consumption, in any form, is harmful. It is the most preventable cause of death in the world. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), in the 20th century, tobacco-caused 100 million deaths. Tobacco kills almost half its user, about eight million each year. Over seven million of these deaths are a result of direct tobacco use. At the same time, more than 1.2 million deaths are the result of people who are exposed to second-hand smoke.

Tobacco contains around 7000 chemicals, including arsenic, formaldehyde, cyanide, lead, ammonia, carbon monoxide, acrolein, and other poisonous substances besides nicotine. More than 70 of these chemicals are carcinogenic or cancer forming chemicals. Nicotine in tobacco is one of the most addictive substance around, which may surprise a lot of people. Perhaps as much or more addictive than heroin. When used regularly, nicotine latches on to you like a leech and demands continuous supply, even against your will.

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Different Forms Of Tobacco

Innumerable people are addicted to nicotine (one of the most habit-forming substances known to man) in various forms. Some smoke, others sniff or chew it. Smoking is the most common way in which people indulge and consume nicotine. But there are different forms of tobacco use:

  • Cigarettes
  • Cigars and beedi
  • Electronic cigarettes or vaping
  • Hookah
  • Chewing tobacco including gutka, khaini

Every different form of tobacco comes with its own set of consequences on our health.

Effects Of Tobacco Usage On Our Body

Tobacco affects our body in many ways starting from the brain, mouth, heart, lungs, skin and our muscles. Here is how tobacco affects these different parts of our body.


Nicotine affects the different regions in our brain, which are responsible for attention, memory, learning and our brain’s plasticity. Nicotine can reduce brain activity, affect concentration and memory. Nicotine exposure can harm brain development when exposed during adolescence. Remember, nicotine may give you a sense of relaxation but also escalate anxiety and sleep problems. Using tobacco daily can cause headaches and dizziness.


Nicotine stains the teeth, damage the gums, give you bad breath and ruins the taste buds. Smoking and chewing tobacco cause mouth cancer and throat cancer.


Smoking tobacco increases the heart rate and blood pressure and causes heart disease and heart attacks. It reduces cardiac efficiency, thereby making it difficult to engage and keep up with physical activities such as exercise and sports.


Regular smokers lung is progressively damaged, thereby making our breathing inefficient. Consequently, smokers waking moments are more miserable as much as its negative impact of breathing during sleep. If someone has Asthma, it is best not to smoke as it can precipitate asthma attacks. Don’t forget the increased likelihood of chest infection across the year.


Tobacco decreases the blood supply and oxygen to the muscles, making exercises more strenuous and tiring.


Tobacco causes the skin to become dry, yellow and age faster when compared to a non-smoker. Smokers skin is less perfused with blood; therefore, they appear tired and unhealthy. The smell of the cigarettes also tends to stick to the skin.

Diseases Caused By Tobacco Usage
  • Lung diseases like COPD and bronchitis and Asthma
  • Lung cancer
  • Mouth and throat cancer
  • Colon cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Reproductive effects
  • Diabetes
  • Premature births
  • Blindness, cataracts, age-related macular degeneration
What Is Second-hand Smoke?

Second-hand smoke is smoke from burning tobacco products, such as cigarettes, cigars, or pipes, and one that is exhaled by the person smoking. There is nothing as a risk-free level of second-hand smoke exposure, as even brief exposure is harmful both for a non-smoker as well as smokers. The only way you can protect non-smokers from second-hand smoke is to avoid smoking indoors or in enclosed spaces.

Health Risks Of Second-hand Smoke

While it is quite apparent that second-hand smoke is still smoke that contains deadly toxins, it is also essential to understand the hazardous effects on health.

As per the CDC, second-hand smoke cause health problems in infants and children, including frequent and severe asthma attacks, ear infections, respiratory infections, and sudden infant death syndrome. Smoking during pregnancy annually results in more than 1,000 infant deaths. Heart ailments and lung cancer are more frequent in adults exposed to second-hand smoke.

But there are immediate health effects as well, and that depends on the exposure time.

Exposure time to second-hand smoke and effects:
  • 5 minutes – stiffens the main artery that supplies oxygenated blood
  • 20-30 minutes – causes blood clotting and the build-up of fat deposits in blood vessels, causing stroke and heart attack.
  • 2 hours – increases the chances of developing arrhythmias and can trigger a fatal cardiac arrest.

Besides, with longer the exposure, there is a significant and higher risk of the deposit of harmful substances in various organs. This results in an increased risk of developing respiratory disorders similar to a smoker, including the risk of lung and other cancers.

How To Quit Smoking And Use Of Tobacco Products?

While it is conscious thought of choosing a healthy lifestyle, it could be tough when it comes to the reality of quitting smoking. Nonetheless, ‘better late than never’, as it’s never pleasant being dependent on anything. Nicotine is very addictive; therefore withdrawing from it can be discomforting, including intense craving, restlessness and irritability. Given the addictive nature of nicotine, willpower will play a vital role in deciding to come of this terrible and deadly habit and to choose a healthier lifestyle, but it’s not sufficient to stay off it.

Apart from professional help and motivational counselling, here are some practical tips:

  • Remember, change can be hard, and motivation is dynamic and subject to significant fluctuation. So, start with ‘one crave at a time’ and work your way to ‘one day at a time’. Build on successes of the previous day or learning from the lack of it. It is well known that the craving, when unattended, become less intense and fizzles out over time.
  • Write a smoking diary to identify patterns of smoking, especially the time of “critical” cigarettes (smoked after a meal, etc.). Such a journal will also help identify triggers those powerful urges to smoke. Try and cut down on non-essential cigarettes first before venturing into critical ones. As address the triggers one by one.
  • Choose a day to quit, and arrange a ceremonial burial of cigarette and paraphernalia.
  • Admitting your intention to quit in a formal announcement to your friends and family will help by forcing you to stick to it.
  • Designate someone (ideally spouse or partner) to remind, encourage, support and push you to achieve your goals.
  • Delay and distract your urges to smoke with juices, healthy snack, mint, etc. Smoker often has difficulties in discerning urge to smoke from hunger. So, consuming a small meal can remedy those rising craves.
  • Avoid the company of smoker and drinking environment initially. Only after you have better control over the urges, you may attempt exposing yourself to a higher risk situation for further desensitisation from urge to smoke or chew tobacco.
  • Take up exercise to reap the benefit of more unobstructed breathing in the aftermath of a smoke-free life.
  • Importantly, consider nicotine substitutes like a patch, chewing gums or e-cigarettes. Be informed that these substitutes are ideally taken under professional guidance and support. Don’t just switch from one habit to another. Research suggests that majority who try to quit without specialist advice (including motivational therapy)and nicotine replacement (NRT) relapse to smoking soon afterwards.
  • Finally, there is medication to reduce craving and associated anxiety. These require a formal script from a practising physician or a psychiatrist.

Nicotine is very addictive; therefore withdrawing from it can be discomforting, including intense craving, restlessness and irritability.

Final Points To Note

Quitting smoking or tobacco may be the best thing you will do in your lifetime. If you don’t succeed, then try again and again, do something different each time. Lack of successes in quitting and return to smoking can never be the end of the road. Instead, it must be seen as progress on the cycle of change and towards better health. So, don’t quit on quitting!

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