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Smoking and Vulnerability to Disease

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), cigarette smoking damages the lungs by attacking not only the pulmonary system, but the cardiovascular and immune systems as well. Damage to the lungs begins with the first cigarette smoked, and from the first puff, the smoke begins to destroy the lungs’ natural defenses. Six months of heavy smoking is enough to cause the onset of lung disease.

The human respiratory system consists of a nasal passage, pharynx, trachea or windpipe, bronchi and alveoli. When we inhale, air moves through the nasal passage, and enters the lungs through the trachea. Along the entire respiratory passage, fine, hair-like projections called “cilia” work to filter out dust, chemicals and other harmful solid matter in the air. Mucus is generated to clean the accumulated particles in the cilia, and is then removed by coughing or blowing the nose.

When cigarette smoke is inhaled, the chemicals produced by the burning tobacco begin to clog the cilia along the nasal passage and trachea causing the cilia to lose fluidity. When the cilia slow down and mucus is not passed along properly, clogging also occurs in the trachea causing “smoker’s cough” – the body’s attempt to remove the irritation. Over time, clogged cilia also fail to filter out the harmful substances in cigarette smoke, and these chemicals accumulate in the linings of the alveoli or air sacs in the lungs. When the cilia are no longer able to protect the lungs by keeping them clean, the lungs become scarred and more vulnerable to infection. If infection does occur, the weakened immune system is less able to fend off illness, and eventually may not be able to send tumor-fighting cells to battle the onset of lung cancer. In effect, smoking cigarettes may not only cause lung cancer, but may also lessen the body’s ability to fight it.

The job of the immune system is to identify and destroy viruses, bacteria and other harmful agents that get into the body. When toxins such as those contained in cigarette smoke are added to the workload, this creates another set of invaders to chase, catch and remove. It should then come as no surprise that while the immune system is struggling to remove these additional toxins, other agents are able to get in.

When the immune system is compromised by smoking, other toxins, such as radon, asbestos and others, are much more likely to cause lung cancer. Call 1-800-258-1054 to find out if this might be your situation and to determine if you might qualify for compensation.

In order to understand how cigarette smoking causes lung cancer, it is necessary to understand the sequence of events from smoke inhalation to the formation of a tumor years to possibly decades later. The initial event is most likely damage caused to genetic materials or DNA by carcinogens in cigarette smoke coupled with a weakened immune system response. Under specific circumstances, the damage can be repaired by cellular DNA repair mechanisms. If not repaired, however, the cells will attempt to duplicate their DNA during the normal cell division process, but will be hindered by the damage, thus leading to error-prone duplication and gene mutation. Mutations are particularly harmful when they occur in those genes controlling cell division rates, but it has been hypothesized that a number of genes need to be mutated or disabled before out of control cell division eventually leads to the formation of a tumor.

Today, millions of Americans have made the choice to stop smoking cigarettes, and it has been scientifically proven that there are benefits to be gained no matter how old a person is when they quit. The question remains, however, as to whether the damage done can ever be completely reversed, or whether lingering effects will be precursors to diseases years later.

For some, within weeks to months of quitting smoking, inflammation of the airways decreases and the cilia that help prevent harmful dust and chemicals from reaching the lungs begin to function properly. As the lungs begin to clear, breathing becomes easier and lung capacity increases. Unfortunately, many long time, heavy smokers have developed chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a collective term for emphysema and chronic bronchitis from which the lungs never completely heal.

In regard to lung cancer, it has been shown that risk probably returns to that of a non-smoker 10 to 15 years after smoking cessation, however, risk is also directly related to the total number of cigarettes smoked in a lifetime which is measured in “pack years”, the number of packs per day multiplied by the number of years smoked.

Aside from the obvious threats of lung and heart disease, many people are unaware of the health risks smoking creates for nearly every system in the human body. The eyes, nose, throat, mouth, skin, bones, blood and reproductive systems are all potential targets. Smokers are also more susceptible to cancers of the mouth, larynx, esophagus, bladder, pancreas, kidney and stomach. Smoking during pregnancy can lead to miscarriage, low birth weight and other complications. Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections and asthma. Smoking has also been associated with dementia, depression and psychiatric disorders.

Given all these facts, tobacco use is the main cause of preventable death in the United States, but quitting may be harder than ever for the high percentage of people who are heavily hooked on nicotine. For most, it is not just a matter of willpower. That said, the reasons to quit keep mounting, and there are many effective programs that can increase the odds of success. See your doctor for advice, and set a stop date today.