How Smoking Affects Your Life Expectancy
After decades of public health warnings, smoking is still the number one cause of preventable death in the United States. Tobacco products contain dozens of dangerous chemicals that make you more prone to potentially fatal illnesses. If you smoke, you have a shorter life expectancy than non-smokers. If you quit, you can extend your life expectancy—and the sooner you do it, the more years you may recapture.
Nearly half a million people a year die from smoking-related causes in the United States alone; tobacco is responsible for about one in every five American deaths. People who smoke live about 10 years less, on average, than non-smokers. If you smoke, you increase your likelihood of developing cancer, cardiovascular disease, heart attack, stroke, diabetes, and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
If you stop smoking, you have a better chance of living longer. People who quit before they turn 40 lower their risk of dying from a smoking-related cause by about 90%. At 50, people can regain six years of life expectancy. At 60, it’s three years. If you have a heart attack related to smoking, you can cut the chance of a second heart attack in half if you quit.
When you stop smoking, your blood pressure and heart rate drop within a half-hour. The next day, the carbon monoxide level in your body will be back to normal. In a little over two weeks, your breathing and circulation will begin to improve. Coughing and shortness of breath will decrease over the next several months, and within a year, your risk of heart disease will be half that of someone who smokes. The health benefits and lower risks continue for as long as you don’t smoke.
Nicotine is the addictive chemical in tobacco, the substance that makes it so hard to quit, but it’s not the chemical that does the most physical damage. There are more than 70 known cancer-causing substances in tobacco smoke, but some of the most dangerous are:
- Tar, which contains carcinogens and constricts the small tubes in your lungs (bronchioles) that absorb oxygen. Tar also damages the hairlike structures (cilia) that help clear your lungs of debris and microbes that contribute to lung disease.
- Carbon monoxide, a poisonous gas that replaces the oxygen in your blood, making your heart work harder and affecting lung function
- Arsenic, a carcinogen linked to lung, bladder, kidney, skin, and liver cancer
- Benzene, a carcinogen linked to an increased risk of leukemia
It’s not just the smoker whose health is harmed by tobacco. Secondhand smoke and tobacco products other than cigarettes can also shorten life expectancy for yourself and those around you. If you want to increase your chance of a longer and healthier life, one of the best things you can do for yourself (and those around you) is to get help to stop smoking.