The history of smoking has been predated back to as early as 5000BC, where tobacco was used mainly for ritualistic and medical purposes. However, it started gaining in popularity as a lifestyle choice after the Europeans started growing them en-masse in the 16th century. Despite the harmful effects of smoking that have been preached heavily by world/government health organizations and experienced first-hand for some, smoking has continued to grip the hearts of many individuals. Singapore’s Ministry of Health reported that about 12% of Singapore’s population were smokers, with 80% of smokers getting hooked before the age of 21. Smoking is also the second-highest contributor to the disease burden in Singapore, which is not surprising as the thousands of chemicals present in 1 cigarette stick not only contains poisonous toxins but also cancer-causing substances.
Source: cigarette smoking and inflammation:Cellular and molecular mechanisms
As per our previous article (link here), we explored what chronic inflammation is and how stress exacerbates it. Smoking has also been shown to increase chronic inflammation and in turn harm our bodies greatly, here are 3 ways how it causes harm:
Activates pro-inflammation systems in airways
Our airways are our bodies’ first line of defence to any foreign invaders like bacteria, viruses, or particles. Cigarette smoking introduces thousands of chemicals and toxins into our bodies through our airway passages and damages them, which in response triggers our body’s defence system to induce pro-inflammatory cells to treat these injuries. Constant, long-term exposure to cigarette smoke as such would cause our airways to be in a state of chronic inflammation.
Supresses body’s defence responses
Despite the release of more pro-inflammatory cells (you may think of them as soldiers) to defend against the foreign toxins introduced by cigarette smoking, these toxins also suppress these cell productions. With a diminishing number of soldiers on the frontline, the body’s defence system is compromised and weakened. This will then lead to a lower immunity level and higher risk of infections and diseases, both of which promote further inflammation to the body.
Alters adaptive immune system responses
Cigarette smoking also alters many signal pathways between cells which are involved in regulating our body’s inflammation levels and immune response. This gives rise to a cumulation of pro-inflammatory cells, a blunted production and activation response of soldier cells responsible for preventing infections and premature cell death. On top of this, the combustion of cigarette smoking also produces reactive oxidative substances and induces oxidative stress on our bodies, giving rise to inflammatory genes and DNA damage to soldier cells, rendering them useless to defend our body.
While smoking causes much damage to the body through chronic inflammation, it is often happening in our bodies on a cellular level, making it difficult for us to see with our naked eyes. However, the constant exposure to cigarette smoke has a cumulative effect on the body, which through chronic inflammation, manifests itself through an increased frequency of illnesses, infections, and diseases. Rheumatoid arthritis, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, and periodontitis (gum infection), are all common physical effects experienced by smokers and are forms of chronic inflammation.
In short, if you have never smoked, do not start. However, if you have already started, we recognise that quitting is often easier said than done. While Singapore’s Health Promotion Board has various smoking cessation programs (https://www.hpb.gov.sg/workplace/workplace-programmes/smoking-cessation-programmes), we at Sports & Cardiology Centre also offer psychologist consultations and health coaches who not only aim at helping you to quit smoking, but also achieve a healthier and a more active lifestyle ultimately.
Lee, J., Taneja, V. and Vassallo, R., 2011. Cigarette Smoking and Inflammation. Journal of Dental Research, 91(2), pp.142-149.