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What is tobacco?

Tobacco is the dried leaf of a plant that grows in many parts of the world. The green leaves of the plant are picked, dried and then rubbed to produce a brown mixture, this can be then sold loose for you to roll your own or in ready made cigarettes. Tobacco contains over 4000 chemicals including a drug called nicotine, which is a mild stimulant and very addictive, tar and carbon monoxide (the same gas that car exhausts pump out).

Where is tobacco found?

Tobacco is found in cigarettes, cigars, pipes, chews and shisha (hookah). Shisha smoking is becoming more popular in the UK. It is the smoking of fruit flavoured tobacco, the smoke is inhaled by a long pipe attached to a water bowl. Most people believe that it is safer but it is still as harmful as normal cigarette smoke. According to research carried out by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the volume of smoke inhaled in an hour-long shisha session is approximately 200 puffs, while smoking an average cigarette involves 20 puffs. As people share pipes those who smoke shisha are also at risk of sharing infections such as colds, flu or herpes.

Cigarettes may also be known as; fags, smokes, tabs and roll-ups.

What are the immediate effects of smoking?

Nicotine is a powerful, fast acting drug, when smoke is inhaled, the nicotine effect hits the brain about 8 seconds later creating an addiction or craving. Nicotine speeds up the heart rate and increases blood pressure. The carbon monoxide in tobacco smoke greatly affects the heart as it reduces the bloods ability to carry oxygen. Nicotine helps reduce stress, anxiety and boredom. However, this effect fades quickly, which encourages continual use. If you are a first time user it may make you feel sick.

If you smoke regularly it makes your breath smell (known as halitosis) and can turn your fingers and teeth yellowy-brown.

Did you know smoking could affect the way you look?

Most people know smoking seriously affects internal organs, particularly the heart and lungs, but did you know it also affects a person’s appearance by altering the skin, body weight and shape. Smoking can also have a noticeable ageing effect on the body. A smoker’s skin is estimated to wrinkle earlier than that of a non-smoker this is because a lack of oxygen reaching the skin damages its collagen and elastin.

The skin is affected by tobacco in two ways, firstly tobacco released into the environment has a drying effect on the skin’s surface. Secondly, because smoking restricts blood vessels, it reduces the amount of blood flowing to the skin, so depriving your skin of oxygen and essential nutrients.

Body weight and shape can be greatly affected by smoking tobacco. Smokers in general tend to be thinner than non-smokers and this is believed to be because nicotine acts as an appetite suppressant and increases the metabolic rate.

What are the long-term effects of smoking tobacco?

Tobacco and smoking cause long-term damage to your health and can kill. Of the many chemicals in tobacco, more than 70 cause cancer. Smoking is the biggest cause of preventable death in England, with more than 80,000 deaths each year. Smoking also causes chest problems, infertility and heart disease. Smoking may also lead to an earlier menopause.

Although nicotine is addictive, most of the effects come from other chemicals such as tar and carbon monoxide.

Lung cancer is the cancer most associated with smoking. Lung cancer kills more people than any other type of cancer and at least 80% of these deaths are caused by smoking. However, there are other types of cancer, which can be caused by smoking, these include: cancer of the mouth, lip and throat, cervical cancer, anal cancer, pancreatic cancer, bladder cancer and leukaemia.

Tobacco contributes to at least 9000 limb amputations each year. Smoking will also raise your blood cholesterol levels and blood pressure and these 2 factors are the main 2 reasons why people get coronary heart disease. Smoking accounts for 20,000 heart disease deaths in the U.K. every year.

Every puff of a cigarette irritates the lining in your mouth. This can lead to sores, ulcers and can damage your gums, causing you to loose your teeth.

On average smokers have far more complications during pregnancy such as premature birth or even a still-birth. Women who smoke during pregnancy are also at risk of giving birth to a lighter baby (an average 8ozs/200 grams lighter than babies born to non-smokers) and a low birth weight is associated with higher risks of death and disease in infancy and early childhood. There is also an increased risk of cot death in babies whose mother has smoked during pregnancy. Smoking in men has also been associated with low sperm counts and impotence.

Smoking is expensive, 20 cigarettes a day will cost approximately £3500 upwards each year.

What about passive smoking?

Breathing in other peoples smoke, known as passive smoking can cause breathing difficulties, asthma, heart disease, stroke and cancer.  Second-hand smoke still contains around 4000 chemicals and can stay in the air for 2 and half hours even after the person has stopped smoking. Children are more susceptible to the effects of passive smoking as their lungs are not fully formed and so are more at risk of developing respiratory conditions, it also puts them more risk of meningitis and increases the risk of cot death. Children who live in a house with smokers are also much more likely to smoke themselves.

What are the laws on tobacco sales and smoking in the UK?

It is illegal for a shop-keeper to sell tobacco to anyone under the age of 18 in the U.K, if the police see anyone under 16 with cigarettes they can confiscate them. It is also illegal to smoke in the car with a child under 18. It also is illegal to smoke in enclosed public places or in the workplace.

Should I give up?

Yes! By quitting smoking you will live longer! After giving up smoking your health will improve rapidly as your body begins to repair itself. You will have more energy, breathing will be easier and food will begin to taste better. More importantly your heart, lungs and bladder will begin to heal. You are classed as a non-smoker when you have been a year without a cigarette.

What about giving up?

If you want to give up you should prepare yourself mentally, firstly set a date and know what you will gain from giving up. Tell your friends and family when you plan to quit so they can support you. Secondly analyse what triggers you to smoke, is it boredom, alcohol or parties? Giving up can leave you with a sense of emptiness for at least a month so try and think of something to overcome this, it could be a new hobby.

Make a list of reasons why you want to stop and then use these reasons to help you when things are tough.

What symptoms will I experience when giving up?

Symptoms of withdrawl are different for everyone and can affect you mentally or physically. For most people the worst symptoms peak after 48 hours and continue for 2-3 weeks but are all usually gone in 6 months. If you know what to expect it can help you to deal with them. Most people who quit will experience nicotine craving, increased appetite, headaches, depression, restlessness and poor concentration. Other people may experience irritability or aggression, disturbed sleep and might feel light headed.

What about stop smoking treatments?

Some people prefer to give up without any aids others prefer to use nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), medications or e-cigarettes. You might want to visit your doctor for advice.

E-cigarettes or vapes as they are more commonly called are less harmful than smoking as their vapour doesn’t contain tar or carbon monoxide. E-cigarettes allow you to breath nicotine through vapour rather than smoke. E-cigarettes are still new and so not much research has been carried out on long term health effects. However, most experts agree e-cigarettes can be useful in helping you quit.

NRT, comes in different forms such as patches, gum, sprays, lozenges and inhalers (plastic cigarettes), they help overcome the nicotine cravings. The NRT patches are the best option for you if you are the kind of smoker who needs a cigarette within 30 minutes of waking. The patch delivers nicotine into the system steadily to reduce withdrawal effects. If you are more of a social smoker or smoke when stressed then gum or lozenges may suit you better and can help break down the association between smoking and certain emotions.

Most people, especially women also worry that when they give up they will put on weight, the good news is that exercise even a regular 20 minute walk will boost your metabolism far better than nicotine. Try changing your usual drink to juice or water or chew gum to keep your mouth busy in place of a cigarette.

If you feel under pressure or upset in the first few weeks of giving up, fight off the temptation to smoke, don’t let it be an excuse for beginning to smoke again. It may help if you create a treat for yourself, how much do you spend on cigarettes? Every week put the money you would have spent on cigarettes away and use it to treat yourself to new clothes or even a holiday.