Smoking - taking a positive step towards quitting
    Smoking - taking a positive step towards quitting

    It’s not only your lungs that are compromised by smoking – every organ in your body can be adversely affected. Statistics show that tobacco kills more people than AIDS, drugs, accidents and alcohol together. But even after many years of smoking, quitting can reduce smoking-associated health risk. 

    Many years ago, while working on carcinogenic compounds in the environment, my research group demonstrated the presence of a carcinogenic nitrosamine in cigarette smoke for the first time. If I remember correctly, this compound was then, decades ago, the 526th chemical compound to be detected in cigarette smoke. At that stage several other carcinogenic compounds, including the benzpyrenes, had already been identified. These findings support epidemiological evidence that there is a strong correlation between smoking and the occurrence of certain cancers, notably lung cancer, in populations in various countries of the world.

    Normally these chemicals are detoxified in the liver, but in our toxin- and disease-ridden environment the liver is often overburdened, so that when a new load of toxic chemicals is added in the form of tobacco toxins, the liver cannot effectively destroy them, with the result that they accumulate in the circulation from where they may often be temporarily deposited in fatty tissues and organs. For this reason, it is not only your lungs that will be compromised – every organ in your body can be adversely affected by cigarette smoking. Statistics show that tobacco kills more people than AIDS, drugs, accidents and alcohol together.


    An epidemiological study compared the average lifespan of 34 000 smoking doctors with a similar group of non-smokers. The results showed that the average smoker who started smoking at the age of 17 and continued until s/he was 71 years old would burn up 5 772 cigarettes per year, or 311 688 cigarettes during 54 years. As a result of this, the smoker’s lifespan would be reduced by 6.5 years, or as much as 11 minutes for every cigarette smoked! This is the intangible but nonetheless very real cost of smoking. Clearly, smoking tobacco is one of the worst things you can do to your health. By some inexplicable quirk of the human psyche, some smokers who are otherwise health conscious will continue smoking, although they will change their diet, exercise regularly and even take all sorts of health-promoting supplements.


    Smokers often hide behind the argument that because they have smoked for such a long time, in health terms there is little to gain by stopping. Even after many years of smoking, however, quitting can reduce smoking-associated health risk.

    There are many other similar benefits of quitting – and remember that it does not help to switch to another form of tobacco such as pipes or cigars. They all load your body with nicotine, and nicotine is as addictive as heroin and other drugs. The addiction to nicotine makes you smoke and smoking causes all the health risks, no matter where the nicotine comes from. By the same token, nicotine patches keep you addicted.

    Stop smoking, and:

    • Within 20 minutes, your blood pressure readings (resulting from sympathetic nerve impulses from the brain that reach the adrenal glands) will return to the level at which they were before your last cigarette.
    • At the same time, the temperature of your hands and feet will return to normal.
    • Within 8 hours, the carbon monoxide level in your blood will return to normal.
    • Within 2 – 12 weeks, your vascular system and circulation will improve and your lung function will recover by 30%.
    • Within 1 – 9 months, the small hair-like projections that grow on the inner surfaces of your lungs and respiratory tract that are responsible for clearing your lungs of mucus will re-grow, and improve your ability to clear your lungs and cope with infections and toxins.
    • One year later, your risk of a heart attack will have decreased by 50%.
    • Five to 15 years later, your risk of stroke will have decreased to that of a non-smoker.
    • Ten years later, your risk of developing lung cancer will be 50% of that of a smoker.


    It is not easy to stop smoking, as many longtime smokers will confirm. Withdrawal symptoms can be quite severe. They may include headache, nausea, insomnia, irritability, severe cravings and many others. But the severity of these symptoms fades into insignificance compared with the disease risk associated with continued smoking. Fortunately these symptoms do not last long – perhaps 2 – 3 weeks. This seems a small sacrifice to make compared with the very severe, lifelong disease risk that continued smoking will assuredly bring.

    Dr G Reaven of Stanford University was the first to draw attention to the health risks associated with high blood sugar levels and hyperinsulinism. He presented convincing evidence to show that chronically raised blood sugar levels arising from the consumption of refined carbohydrates cause insulin resistance, which leads to chronically raised insulin levels (‘hyperinsulinism’), which in turn is one of the important causes suggested that these also aggravate nicotine addiction. One of the first steps in killing the tobacco habit is therefore to break away from the sugar-laden over-refined Western diet and switch over to a natural diet based on fresh, natural, unrefined foods.


    1. Shaw M, Mitchell R, Dorling D. Time for a smoke? One cigarette reduces your life by 11 minutes. BMJ. 2000;320(7226):53.
    2. Lykkesfeldt J, Priemé H, Loft S, Poulsen HE. Effect of smoking cessation on plasma ascorbic acid concentration. BMJ. 1996;313(7049):91.
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