Smoking in Jordan: Risks, complications, and the benefits of quitting

(Photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — From cigarettes to cigars, argileh to vapes, smoking is a harmful habit ingrained in Jordanian society. In 2016, Jordan ranked 8th on the world’s smoking prevalence list, with consumption rates hitting 2,300 cigarettes per person annually. Based on a 2019 Ministry of Health report, 70.3 percent of men and 18.6 percent of women ages 18 to 44 were smokers. Of the male smokers, 89 percent smoked daily, consuming a little over a pack per day. While smoking is not a direct cause of death, it is significant risk factor and linked to deadly diseases and complications.اضافة اعلان

What is in cigarettes and other tobacco products

Tobacco products, especially cigarettes, are filled with chemicals that are harmful to the body. The primary chemical within tobacco is nicotine, and it is what makes smoking addictive. Nicotine is both a stimulant and a sedative and therefore has a range of effects on the body. This chemical leads to the direct release of a hormone called adrenaline (or epinephrine), which is responsible for increasing a person’s breathing rate, heartrate, blood pressure, and the immediate release of glucose. Indirectly, nicotine can also increase the release of dopamine. Dopamine is the “feeling good” hormone that affects emotions, mood, and sensations of pleasure. While nicotine may have positive pharmacological effects, uncontrolled amounts often result in harmful side effects.

Nicotine content is an “active ingredient” in cigarettes, and smokers tend to seek out its effects. Unfortunately, manufactured and even raw forms of tobacco contain many other chemicals. At least 70 of the known chemicals found within cigarettes are carcinogens. Carcinogens are chemicals that are known to cause cancer within the body. One of the common and well-studied chemicals in cigarettes is formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a carcinogen and can be used as a pesticide, disinfectant, or preservative. Commonly, formaldehyde is used as the preservative fluid for jars of frogs in biology classes. Cigarettes can contain 2.3 to 6.1 ppm (parts per million) of formaldehyde, whereas the air around us only contains 0.005-0.01 ppm.

Other harmful chemicals and carcinogens that can be found in cigarettes include heavy metals such as lead and arsenic, as well as radioactive elements such as polonium-210.

The smoke from cigarettes also contains harmful chemicals. One such chemical is carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is detrimental to our health as it displaces oxygen in the blood stream, reducing the amount of oxygen available in our bodies. Tar is another substance that the smoke produces. Tar is a black residue that is comes from plant-based materials, and when inhaled, the droplets coat the lung’s interior, damaging cells and causing an array of complications.

Risks of smoking

As previously mentioned, smoking does not directly kill. Instead, it may significantly increase your risk of developing other diseases that may cause death. The primary area affected by smoking is your respiratory system. The inhalation of smoke is directly associated with damage to the tiny air sacs in lungs called alveoli, causing certain diseases. The most common example is COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which encompasses emphysema and chronic bronchitis. When compared to non-smokers, smokers are 12 to 13 times more likely to develop COPD. In people with asthma, smoking may trigger or exacerbate attacks.

Additionally, smoking may cause cardiovascular diseases (CVDs). It damages blood vessels by either thickening or thinning the vascular walls, increases heart rate and blood pressure, and causes increased clotting. Combined, these factors make smokers two to four times more likely to develop ischemic heart disease (IHD), and two to four times more likely to develop a stroke.

Even those who smoke less than five cigarettes a day can develop early signs of CVD. Smoking also considerably worsens the disease state in individuals with pre-existing CVD or other comorbidities.

Cancer risk is also greatly increased in smokers compared to non-smokers. Smoking is responsible for approximately 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths. Although cancers in the lungs, mouth, and throat seem obvious, smoking also increases the risk of cancer in other parts of the body. Cancers of the liver, pancreas, stomach, and kidneys are just a few that are directly associated with smoking. Estimates in the US suggest that approximately 33 percent of all cancer deaths would be prevented if people did not smoke.

In addition to often fatal, yet preventable diseases, smoking can also increase your risk for other diseases. Smoking can weaken the immune system, increasing risks for infections as well as rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease. The risk for developing type 2 diabetes mellitus is also 30-40 percent higher in smokers. Furthermore, smoking is associated with many complications in pregnancy that may be fatal to the mother or child. 

Complications of smoking

Aside from the slew of health risks associated with smoking, there are also complications that may not be life-threatening but can decrease the quality of life in individuals. From an appearance standpoint, smoking can permanently discolor the teeth and cause gum diseases. The odor of tobacco smoke lingers in clothing, hair, skin, and furniture. Smoking is also associated with premature skin aging. 

Within the body, smoking can cause complications such as vision problems due to the increased risk of cataracts (clouding of the eye lenses) and degradation of the retinas. Smoking has also been associated with fertility issues in both sexes. In males, smoking may cause erectile dysfunction (the inability for the male sexual organ to become erect), as well as damage sperm, resulting in reduced fertility. In females, damage to the reproductive system is possible as a result of the chemicals within tobacco affecting hormone levels.

Benefits of quitting

Even if you have been smoking for years, there are still benefits to quitting. Although there may be some permanent damage, our bodies can heal and repair itself. Within 20 minutes of your last smoke, your blood pressure and heart rate will begin to return to normal. After just 8 hours, carbon monoxide levels will decrease back to normal. If you stop smoking for 24 hours, you decrease your risk of suffering a heart attack, and the levels of nicotine in your body become negligible.

After 48 hours, nerve endings will start to repair, causing you to taste and smell things you may not have before. After one week of quitting, success for quitting long term is nine times more likely. After two weeks, lung function improves by approximately 30 percent. After three years of quitting, the risk of a heart attack is reduced to that of a non-smoker.

After five years, risk of dying due to lung cancer is reduced by 50 percent. In 10 years, lung cancer mortality risk is reduced to that of a non-smoker and the risk of cancers of other areas is also drastically reduced. After 15 years of quitting, the risk of a heart attack or stroke is reduced to that of a person who never smoked. 

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