Tobacco in cigarettes contains a variety of chemical substances – many of them toxic or harmful. Besides the particularly harmful nicotine and tar, carbon monoxide is also a substance given off in the process of smoking.
Here we’ll introduce what carbon monoxide is and how it can affect your health.
What carbon monoxide is
In environments where there is ample oxygen available, carbon monoxide will be produced when carbon burns. It has been confirmed that tobacco smoke contains between 1-3% carbon monoxide, and secondhand (sidestream) smoke can contain up to 5 times the carbon monoxide that direct (primary) smoking can. For this and other reasons, many countries require cigarette labels that display the carbon monoxide volume of their particular brand of cigarettes.
Carbon monoxide has a chemical property which enables it to easily combine with hemoglobin, which carries oxygen in blood. As the amount of inhaled carbon monoxide increases, the amount of oxygen decreases. Once carbon monoxide combines with hemoglobin, it does not dissipate for 3 to 4 hours. Therefore, smokers who have smoke additional cigarettes within that 4-hour period may be chronically lacking oxygen. Symptoms of oxygen deficiency due to carbon monoxide are called carbon monoxide poisoning and are infamous for causing severe illnesses.
How carbon monoxide affects the body
At the time of carbon monoxide poisoning, the number of red blood cells in the blood increases unnecessarily to compensate for the lack of oxygen. This has an effect on the blood vessel walls which do not receive enough oxygen, and can cause smaller blood clots, called thrombosis, to occur. Over time, this in turn can result in arteriosclerosis, a symptom that occurs when the blood vessel is clogged. Advances in arteriosclerosis can lead to serious smoking-related diseases such as myocardial infarction (heart attack) and stroke.
Other than arteriosclerosis, carbon monoxide can affect the body in differing levels of severity.
Symptoms including headaches, numbness, tiredness, fatigue, dizziness and nausea are also caused by hypoxia in case of mild carbon monoxide poisoning.
Moderate symptoms are for the most part more intense versions of the previous symptoms, but lead to a decrease in judgment and attention in daily life, making it easier to cause mistakes. With moderate carbon monoxide poisoning, symptoms can become heavy, sometimes causing fainting, and are major obstacles in everyday life and attention is necessary.
If carbon monoxide poisoning becomes severe, unconsciousness or coma condition may occur, and the worst case death is possible.
Particularly in winter, the risk for carbon monoxide increases, as people close windows and to generate heat for homes by burning oil or gas, and smokers may be at further risk for carbon monoxide poisoning. It is important to ensure that homes, particularly where a wood stove, gas heater or furnace is located, have ample ventilation for this reason.
Reducing risk of health consequences
Since carbon monoxide is contained in cigarettes’ firsthand smoke and secondhand smoke, carbon monoxide always exists in not only the smoker’s body, but in those of his or her family members. In order to avoid various health problems, it is necessary to reduce the amount of carbon monoxide taken into the body.
To that end, stopping smoking is the simplest way of preventing carbon monoxide-related illnesses, while for non-smokers this means keeping away from the smoking environment to the extent possible.
Especially for smokers, it is possible to reduce the risk of health damage (including lung cancer) by quitting smoking. However, various risk improvement effects due to smoking cessation can take up to 5 to 15 years to actually feel a major difference, and as a result many people tend to give up on giving up smoking. Nevertheless, from the day you start smoking cessation, risk reduction begins, so if you consider your future health, try to endure the quitting process.
Carbon monoxide contained in tobacco is a very dangerous substance and those who are customarily smoking may already be experiencing carbon monoxide poisoning.
It is important to remember that it’s never too late to quit smoking. Regardless of how old you are or how many years you’ve been a smoker, research has shown that your body will begin its healing process within 20 minutes of your last cigarette. And within one year of stopping smoking, your risk of coronary artery disease drops to half that of a smoker. Between 5 and 15 years of quitting, risk of developing coronary disease or stroke fall to that of nonsmokers. If you find it difficult to go cold-turkey to quit smoking, there are also ways to use tobacco substitutes such as nicotine gum or Rien Pipe-type smoking cessation aids, kits and programs.