It’s National No Smoking Day today. The day when the 8.3 million British smokers in the UK are encouraged to stub out the cigarettes for good.
But that’s ok, it doesn’t affect you, because you’re not actually a smoker.
A couple of cigarettes with your Friday night Porn Star Martini doesn’t make you a proper smoker, does it?
While a couple of puffs on a night out might not put you up there with the 20 a day-ers in the addiction stakes, the fact is social or casual smoking can still have very real, very serious implications on your health.
“One won’t hurt”
According to recent statistics by Vapour.com just 15.5% of the UK population smokes, yet 24% smoke socially, that’s almost a quarter of the entire population.
While the majority of social smokers do it because they ‘enjoy the effects of nicotine’, almost a third (29%) do it because of peer influence.
And though the majority of social smokers do it only 1-2 times a month, over a quarter (26%) light up more than once a week.
One such social smoker is Rebecca, 27: “I will have a cigarette most times I go out, especially if I’m with my friends who smoke and we end up in the smoking area.”
“There’s always a friendly vibe and it’s an area you can hear people to have a proper chat. You often get offered a cigarette and in that kind of environment it’s hard to turn down. You don’t want to be the only one not smoking and because you’ve been drinking, you don’t think about the risks, you think one won’t hurt.”
But how much damage can weekend-only smoking actually do to your body? And can it ever recover if you do decide to quit?
“We all know smoking isn’t good for us, but every cigarette no matter how often you smoke, is harmful and doing damage to your body and taking its toll on your lungs, your heart, blood vessels, brain and even your skin,” says Dr Andrew Thornber, Chief Medical Officer, Now Patient.
“Nicotine is addictive, so remember one occasional cigarette can often become more frequent and that’s when the real health problems can start.”
According to Dr Thornber One cigarette contains over 7,000 chemicals, many of which are toxic and can cause cancers.
Recent statistics reveal that around 100,000 people per year die from smoking related illnesses.
“There are about 50 serious health risks associated to smoking but cancer and particularly lung cancers (smoking causes about 90% of lung cancers) are the biggest risks,” Dr Thornber continues.
What’s more, smoking generally reduces life expectancy by around 10 years. Yikes!
But there is light at the end of the quitting tunnel because some of the damage caused by social smoking can actually be reversed.
“If you’ve been a casual smoker for some time, then some of this damage is permanent,” warns Dr Thornber.
“But you can reverse some of the effects, whenever you stop, and your general wellbeing should start to pick-up rapidly.”
“It usually depends on the person and other health factors, like diet, weight and stress, but generally the healthy you are in body and mind, the quicker you should be able to reverse some of the effects of smoking,” Dr Thornber continues.
And some of those effects can be witnessed almost instantly.
“After just 20 minutes, research has shown that your body starts to go into recovery mode,” explains Sacha Harding, personal trainer at Nuyoo. “Nicotine, which is the addictive chemical found in cigarettes, becomes a stimulant, telling your body it’s time to fight the negative and detrimental impact cigarettes have on your body.”
“As a general rule of thumb after smoking a cigarette, it usually takes around 20 minutes for your heart rate to return to normal and two hours for blood pressure to return to normal,” adds Boots UK pharmacist, Angela Chalmers.
“After 48 hours carbon monoxide will be eliminated from the body. After a couple of days your ability to taste and smell improves and after 72 hours breathing becomes easier.”
Here’s what actually happens to your body when you quit social smoking
Taste and smell
This disappears when you’re smoking, because breathing in the hot fumes of cigarette smoke is toxic to the senses. But, according to Dr Thornber, within 48 hours of stopping smoking your senses should start to return and you’ll be able to enjoy the taste of food as normal.
Smoking has a huge effect on your lungs, causing coughs, colds, wheezing and lung damage, but within 72 hours your lung capacity should improve, and any mucus like coughs should subside.
Even the occasional cigarette can impact your appearance. “Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen that gets to your skin, making your skin look grey and dull and age faster than a none smoker,” explains Dr Thornber.
According to recent research smoking prematurely ages your skin by between 10 and 20 years, and makes it three times more likely you’ll get facial wrinkling, particularly around the eyes and mouth.
But quitting can help improve the appearance of both your skin and teeth. “Stopping increases the circulation and gradually your skin tone will brighten,” Dr Thornber adds.
According to research women who smoke, or are exposed to other people’s smoke, have an increased risk of infertility and are more likely to take longer to get pregnant.
Equally, men that smoke cigarettes have been found to have a lower sperm count and at an increased risk of sperm motility problems.
“If you quit smoking your fertility levels will improve, along with your chances of having a healthy pregnancy and baby, as smoking has a huge effect on reproduction,” explains Dr Thornber.
According to the British Heart Foundation smoking, even socially, increases the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases, which includes coronary heart disease and stroke.
Smoking damages the lining of your arteries, leading to a build up of fatty material (atheroma), which narrows the artery. This can cause angina, a heart attack or a stroke.
But according to Dr Thornber, some of these risks can be reduced almost immediately after quitting. “Within 24 hours you risk of heart attack will already be decreasing and after a year the risk of heart disease decreases by half,” he explains.
Likewise, your chance of having a stroke reduces by 50% within two years of stopping smoking.
Quitting smoking at any age, has been proven to reduce health risks and life expectancy.
“Stopping smoking by the age of 30 has been shown that remarkably the life expectancy will be identical to people who have never smoked,” Dr Thornber explains.
“Quitting at 40 has been shown to reduce risk of smoking-related death by 90 per cent, people who stopped smoking at 45 to 54 years old gained about six years of life, compared with those who continued smoking, while those who quit at 55 to 64 can look to gain about four years of life.”
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