If you were told that you were inhaling (and exhaling) chemicals such as paint stripper, embalming fluid and radioactive gas, would you be surprised? Well that is just a small sample of what you are taking in to your body:
- Carbon Monoxide (CO) – this is a killer. We try to protect our homes and family from this by installing monitors, and yet as smokers, we will happily take this into our lungs and body. CO is commonly found in car exhaust fumes.
- Tar – a sticky black substance that will be coating your lungs as we speak. Tar is a main contributor of emphysema and bronchitis. It affects the cilia in the lining of the lungs. The more visible effects are the yellow discolouring of the teeth and fingernails, gum disease and mouth cancer. Don’t be fooled by the ‘Low tar’ alternatives, all this means is that there are more holes in the cigarette filter – studies show that smokers overcompensate for the holes by inhaling deeper – there is no such thing as a healthy cigarette.
- Acetone – the chemical used in nail polish remover and paint stripper. If this substance gets on varnished wood, it lifts the varnish, imagine what it is doing to your body. It is also an eye, nose and throat irritant.
- Arsenic – used in rat poison and wood preserver. No need to say more than that!
- Benzene – a solvent used to manufacture petrol and other chemicals. It is well known that benzene can cause cancer, particularly leukaemia. Tobacco smoke contains large amounts of benzene and accounts for a big proportion of our exposure to this poison. The average smoker inhales about ten times more benzene than the average non-smoker.
- Chromium – a metal used to make metallic alloys, dyes and paints and comes in different forms. Chromium VI or ‘hexavalent chromium’ is very toxic and is found in tobacco smoke. This substance is known to cause lung cancer. It should not be confused with Chromium III or ‘trivalent chromium’ which is available as dietary supplements and is harmless.
- Formaldehyde – probably best known for its preservative properties – often used as an embalming fluid for dead bodies. It is also used to kill bacteria and in the manufacture of other chemicals. It is one of the worst culprits in tobacco smoke to cause diseases in our lungs and airways. It is also a known cause of cancer.
- Ammonia – a gas with a strong, irritating smell, and is used in some toilet cleaners. Studies have found that ammonia enhances the addictive power of nicotine by changing nicotine into a gas that is more readily absorbed into the lungs, airways and bloodstream. Like carbon monoxide and hydrogen cyanide, ammonia also kills cilia in the lungs.
- Nicotine – highly addictive drug and also used as a potent pesticide. Tobacco companies use nicotine and flavourings to keep you addicted which means you will keep coming back for more.
- Toluene – used in dry cleaning fluids. It can damage brain cells and interfere with their development.
- Hydrogen cyanide – a poisonous gas. Of all the chemicals in tobacco smoke, it does the most damage to the heart and and blood vessels. Hydrogen cyanide does not cause cancer, but it increases the risk of other chemicals causing cancer by damaging cilia. These are tiny hairs lining the airways that help to clear toxins and dirt particles away. By killing cilia, hydrogen cyanide causes other dangerous chemicals to be stuck in the lungs and airways.
We could tell you all about the 4,000 chemicals cigarettes contain and the harm they can do you, but here are just a few more to think about:
- Metals, such as nickel, lead, cobalt and beryllium. While you may be exposed to some of these metals through domestic items or food, inhaling them in tobacco smoke is worse, because they are easily absorbed by the lungs.
- Acetaldehyde, which is also formed in your tissues when you drink alcohol – it is responsible for many nasty hangover symptoms
- Hydrazine, a very toxic chemical used mainly in rocket fuel
- Sulphur dioxide kill cilia (protective hairs in our lungs). This stops them from being able to clear away other harmful chemicals.
- Chemicals like hydrogen sulphide and pyridine irritate our airways.