Smoking and your health

Although you probably know that smoking is bad for you, the urge to smoke is often so strong that it’s easy to put this knowledge aside and have another cigarette. Understanding why smoking is so bad for you and why it’s addictive may just help you to stop smoking for good.

Every year, around five million people worldwide die from tobacco use.

Read more about smoking and your health below.

Published by Bupa's Health Information Team, December 2010.



What’s in a cigarette?

Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 harmful chemicals. Take a look at the list below, and see where you would usually expect to find them.
Chemical  Usually found in
 Paint stripper or nail polish remover
 Cleaning fluids
 Lighter fluid
Carbon monoxide
 Car exhaust
 Rocket fuel
 Moth balls
 Wood varnish
 Industrial solvent
 Vinyl chloride

Cigarettes also contain tar. If you smoke, over two-thirds of the tar from your cigarettes is left behind in your lungs.

What do I gain from stopping smoking?

You may already know that smoking causes lung cancer, heart disease and stroke. But it can play a part in causing up to 50 different diseases and health problems, from osteoporosis to impotence and infertility. It can also affect your baby if you smoke while you’re pregnant.

Cutting out the cigarettes can really improve your health by helping you to:
  • look better – smoking causes grey, wrinkled and damaged skin
  • enjoy the taste of food and drink more
  • improve your fertility and sexual function
  • have healthier teeth and gums – smoking causes bad breath, yellowing of teeth and increases your risk of gum disease
  • increase your energy levels and help you to exercise for longer
It’s not just you who’s affected by smoking – your family, friends and people you live with will all be exposed to your second-hand smoke. This makes them passive smokers. Second-hand smoke is made up of ‘sidestream’ smoke, which comes from the end of the cigarette, and ‘mainstream’ smoke, which you inhale and then exhale. Passive smoking carries all the same health risks as smoking, and it’s particularly dangerous for children.

But it’s not just the health benefits – stopping smoking can also have a positive effect on your wallet.

Getting help to stop smoking

Stopping smoking is no mean feat, but you may find it easier if you have support, even if it’s just encouragement from your friends and family. If you have a friend who’s also thinking about stopping smoking, you could help each other.

There’s good evidence to show that using nicotine replacement therapy (NRT), or the stop smoking medicines bupropion or varenicline can help you to successfully stop smoking. All these treatments have been shown to be much more effective if used in combination with support from a trained stop smoking adviser. These treatments will make it easier and more likely that you’ll succeed when you stop smoking, but you will also need to use some willpower.

Availability and use of different treatments may vary from country to country. Ask your doctor for advice on your treatment options.

Planning to stop smoking

There’s no easy way to stop smoking, but you can make it easier by being prepared.
  • Understand why and when you smoke. Why not try keeping a diary for a week, jotting down when you smoke, where you are, who you’re with and how you felt before and after smoking. This will help you to spot patterns, triggers or habits.
  • Set a target date for stopping. Although gradually cutting down works for some people, experts believe it’s best to commit to a date and then give up completely.
  • Write down how you plan to deal with anything that usually triggers you to reach for a cigarette. For example, if you usually have a cigarette with your cup of tea, why not eat an apple instead.
  • Get rid of all your smoking related items – ashtrays, lighters, the lot.
  • Get support from your friends, family and professional services.
Stopping smoking isn’t easy, but if you stay positive and get plenty of help and support, you can succeed.



  • Tobacco. World Health Organization. www.who.int, published May 2010
  • Mackay J, Eriksen M, Shafey O. The tobacco atlas. 2nd ed. Switzerland: World Health Organization, 2006:34–37
  • What is in a cigarette? No Smoking Day. www.nosmokingday.org.uk, accessed 26 May 2010
  • ash: facts at a glance – smoking and disease. ash (Action on Smoking and Health). www.ash.org.uk, published November 2007
  • ash: essential information on – how smoking affects the way you look. ash (Action on Smoking and Health). www.ash.org.uk, published November 2009
  • Smoking cessation – adults. Clinical Knowledge Summaries. www.cks.nhs.uk, published October 2009
  • Stead L, Perera R, Bullen C, et al. Nicotine replacement therapy for smoking cessation. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2008, Issue 1 Art. No.: CD000146. doi:10.1002/14651858
  • Top tips for quitting. No Smoking Day. www.nosmokingday.org.uk, accessed 27 May 2010

This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been peer reviewed by Bupa doctors. This content was compiled by Bupa based on clinical information and practice current as at the stated date of publication. Content is likely to reflect clinical practice in a particular geographical region (as indicated by the sources cited) – accordingly, it may not reflect clinical practice in the reader’s country of habitation. This content is intended for general information only and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. Photos and videos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition.

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