Almost everyone knows how important it is to stop smoking. Smoking is linked to lung cancer; lung diseases such as emphysema or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD; and cough. What many people don’t know is that smoking is also linked to other conditions such as poor wound healing and arterial diseases, including stroke and heart attack. Tobacco can constrict the peripheral arteries in the arms and legs, which can lead to less blood flow to those parts of the body. This can result in cool limbs, slower or difficult wound healing on the extremities, and even hair loss. Complicated wounds can put the patient at risk for needing surgical interventions and other procedures.
Chewing tobacco has been linked to poor oral health, including oral cancers. There is also an association between chewing tobacco and dental issues, including poor teeth and lesions (sores) in the mouth. Chewing tobacco can also lead to the same cardiovascular and wound-related effects of smoking.
In addition, tobacco users may have an increased risk of high cholesterol; increased inflammation; blood clots; and insulin resistance, which is a main factor in type II diabetes. Smoking may also increase the thickness of the carotid artery, the main artery feeding blood to the brain. Carotid artery disease, or stenosis, can be a risk factor in strokes. This is usually treated by a surgery called a carotid endarterectomy, which removes the blockage in the artery, or by stenting the narrowing in the artery. Smoking also speeds up the natural loss of lung function as we age, but quitting can bring that natural decline back to normal levels.
Often forgotten are the dangers of secondhand smoke. Some studies have estimated that the smoking equivalence of secondhand smoke is half a pack per day. Secondhand smoke exposure has similar risks add negative effects as directly smoking
Other forms of smoking include cigars, pipes, vaping and e-cigarettes. These still contain nicotine, and early studies have shown similar negative health effects to regular smoking and tobacco use. They may not be safer alternatives to conventional smoking.
Tobacco is bad for the body, whether in the form of traditional cigarette use or something else. Healthcare providers advise quitting all forms of tobacco. Many healthcare facilities, such as hospitals, are becoming tobacco-free environments.
Are you ready to quit? Northern Arizona Healthcare offers a free, eight-session Freedom From Smoking course that provides options, resources and support to help you quit smoking for good. Call 928-639-5391 for the next program dates.
This article was written by Jack Ji, DO, FACOI, a provider with Northern Arizona Healthcare's Specialty Clinic at Flagstaff Medical Center. Dr. Ji can see post-hospitalized or stable post-emergency department patients who do not have a primary care physician or are unable to see that physician within the recommended time frame.