"Skull of a Skeleton with Burning Cigarette" (1885), oil on canvas, Van Gogh Museum
It is said that Vincent Van Gogh suffered from mental illness, but clearly he had no illusions about what his habit of smoking was doing to his body.

This essay was written in March of 2008 by Ryan C. Stebbins.

It is common knowledge that smoking is harmful to human health. Smoking has been recognized as a leading cause of disease and death for at least 40 years, and few subjects have received such extensive study. Thousands of scientific studies confirm that smoking is a major hazard to people’s health (Lukachko, par. 4). Yet many people continue to smoke, regardless of the consequences. One excuse that smokers often use is the fact that they will eventually die even if they had never smoked at all. However, this attitude does not take into account the fact that smokers are not only affecting themselves, but also people around them, as well as society itself. People who die prematurely from smoking are not only cheating themselves out of years of living that they could have had – they are also cheating their family and friends from time that could have been spent with them. Smoking wastes money, time, and life.

Smoking kills. This is a proven fact. We are taught that automobile speeding kills, but the reality is that such an activity only kills you if you happen to crash. Otherwise, you escape unharmed. The very act of smoking, on the other hand, degrades and harms the body. There is not a “chance” of this happening – it happens every single time a person smokes. It is projected that regular smokers lose about 5 ½ minutes of life expectancy for every cigarette that they smoke (Kunz 39). William F. Harrison, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Fayetteville, Arkansas, states that smokers who continue to smoke will develop one or more major complications. He says that the probability is 100%; “it absolutely will happen” (Harrison, par. 4). Besides that, most smokers die after suffering long and terrible illnesses, having been burdens to themselves, their families, and humanity (Harrison, pars. 2-5).

Most everyone involved in medicine acknowledges the fact that tobacco is associated with major health issues and comprises the #1 leading health problem in the United States. Smokers who do not quit will develop chronic bronchitis, laryngitis, pharyngitis, sinusitis, and some degree of emphysema. They will develop serious disease in the arteries of all vital organs, such as the heart and brain, and noticeably amplify their risk of heart attack and stroke. If smokers continue, they increase their chances of developing cancers of the lips, gums, tongue, larynx, pharynx, trachea, bronchi, lungs, bladder, cervix, gallbladder, and many other organs. Smoking contributes to premature aging of the skin and connective tissues. Around 415,000 people die prematurely each year in the U.S. because of smoking. This is the equivalent of eighteen 747s’ crashing each week with a complete loss of all life onboard. The longer someone smokes, the harder it becomes for them to quit, and for a person who has been smoking for 10 years, each cigarette might do as much damage to their body as an three or more packs did when they first started (Harrison, pars. 3-8).

The effects of smoking on smokers as well as on people exposed to secondhand smoke are explained by Alicia M. Lukachko, former assistant director of public health at the American Council on Science and Health (ACSH), and Elizabeth M. Whelan, president of ACSH, in their article “Smoking Causes Significant Health Problems.” Smokers face the prospect of emphysema, respiratory illnesses, and vision and hearing problems. The higher estimates show that these illnesses result in as many as 700,000 deaths every year. Besides the aforementioned forms of cancer and other diseases that smoking can cause, it also reduces the body’s ability to recover from illnesses, may cause sexual and pregnancy problems, increases the risk of osteoporosis and gum disease, and causes greater risk of complications during and after surgery. The overall death rate among smokers is two to three times greater than that of nonsmokers. Besides harming smokers themselves, environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) also poses health effects to anyone breathing it. This secondhand smoke causes irritation of the eyes, nose, and respiratory tract, increased susceptibility to respiratory infections, exacerbation of asthma and emphysema, and possibly contributes to lung cancer and heart disease (Lukachko, pars. 2-9).

Teenagers have great difficulty quitting smoking, and they suffer irreversible health effects just as adults do. However, the respiratory health of teens is especially at risk, because smoking at a young age impedes lungs from growing to a fully-functional state. Unfortunately, many people such as teenagers believe that they can smoke for a few years and then quit without suffering any long-term health effects. Sadly, this is not true. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has shown that teen smoking rates have increased by nearly a third within the last six years (Brodish, pars. 2-4).

Never having smoked at all is definitely the healthiest choice, but it is still far more beneficial to quit smoking than to continue. According to the American Cancer Society, Inc., within 20 minutes of not smoking, the body’s blood pressure drops to a level that is close to what it was before the last smoke. Also, the temperature of the hands and feet increases back to normal. Within 8 hours, the carbon monoxide level in the blood drops back to normal. Within 24 hours, the chance of heart attack decreases. Within 2 weeks to 3 months, the body’s circulation improves, and lung functioning increases by up to 30%. Within 1 to 9 months, coughing, fatigue, sinus congestion, and shortness of breath decrease. Also, the cilia regain normal functioning within the lungs, which increases the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce infection. Within 1 year, the excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker’s. Within 5-15 years, the risk of stroke is reduced to that of a nonsmoker’s. Within 10 years, the risk of cancer of the pancreas, kidneys, bladder, esophagus, throat, and mouth decreases. Also, the lung cancer death rate of people who have not smoked for 10 years is about half that of a continuing smoker. Within 15 years, the risk of coronary heart disease returns to that of a nonsmoker’s. These are just a few of the benefits of quitting smoking (“Some Benefits of Quitting Smoking”).

Although quitting smoking brings benefits at any age, there are “threshold” amounts that permanently increase the risk of various diseases. People who smoke for as briefly as 10 years show a substantially higher rate of death, disease, and disability. The risks for respiratory problems and cancer plague smokers for years even after they have quit smoking. Also, smokers that are actually able to quit do not become as healthy as they would have been if they had never smoked at all. There are many irreversible health effects that smokers face. These include retardation in the rate of lung development and function, risk of cancer, circulatory impairment, visual impairment and loss, vocal-cord growths and hoarseness, bone mineral loss, spinal arthritis, hip fractures, serious health problems for children born to smoking mothers, and premature facial wrinkling and graying of the skin after as few as five years of smoking. Only 20 percent of smokers who quit are actually successful, and for four out of five people who start smoking, the very decision to do so is in itself unalterable (Brodish, pars. 10-34).

As you can see, smoking is a wasteful practice that harms the welfare of individuals and society. Although quitting smoking at any age brings about numerous health benefits, many individuals have a very hard time doing so, and even after having quit, they are still not as healthy as they would be if they had never smoked at all. So why do it?

Works Cited:

Brodish, Paul H. “Smoking Has Serious Health Effects.” Teen Decisions: Smoking. Ed. Laura K. Egendorf. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2001. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. VCCS System – used for scripted access. 7 Mar. 2008 <

Harrison, William F. “Smoking Is Harmful to Human Health.” Current Controversies: Smoking. Ed. Carol Wekesser. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 1997. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. VCCS System – used for scripted access. 7 Mar. 2008 <

Kunz, Jeffrey R.M., and Asher J. Finkel., eds. The American Medical
Association Family Medical Guide
. New York: Random House, 1987.

Lukachko, Alicia M., and Elizabeth M. Whelan. “Smoking Causes Significant Health Problems.” Opposing Viewpoints: Chemical Dependency. Ed. Laura K. Egendorf. San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2003. Opposing Viewpoints Resource Center. Gale. VCCS System – used for scripted access. 7 Mar. 2008 <

“Some Benefits of Quitting Smoking.” The World Almanac and Book of
. 2004.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *