Health Issues

What does smoking do to my body?

I’m going into hospital for an operation, what should I do?

What is secondhand smoke?

What are the dangers to infants, children and unborn babies?


What does smoking do to my body?

Smoking causes many serious and fatal diseases including lung cancer, heart disease, bronchitis and emphysema. It also causes many other cancers, respiratory diseases, strokes and can affect fertility.


Cigarettes contain over 4,000 toxic chemicals and around 50 of these cause cancer. The three main toxins are nicotine, carbon monoxide and tar.

  • Carbon monoxide is a poisonous gas in cigarette smoke. It is also found in car exhaust fumes and produced by faulty gas appliances. It takes the place of oxygen in the blood, causing your lungs to work less efficiently. This stops cells all around your body from getting the oxygen they need
  • Tar is the sticky brown substance, which stains your fingers and teeth. Tar causes cancer and damages your lungs. It stays inside your lungs, making tubes narrower and reducing your protection against infection

Some other chemicals found in cigarettes are:

  • Acetone - Nail polish remover
  • Ammonia - Toilet cleaner
  • Arsenic - Rat poison
  • Benzo(a)pyrene - Diesel exhaust fumes
  • Carbon Monoxide - Petrol exhaust fumes
  • DDT and Dieldrin - Insecticides
  • Formaldehyde - Preservative for dead bodies
  • Hydrogen Cyanide - Poison used in gas chambers
  • Methanol - Rocket fuel
  • Titanium - Metal used to make aeroplanes
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I’m going into hospital for an operation, what should I do?

If you are undergoing treatment or waiting for surgery it is important that you stop smoking as soon as possible. Smoking increases the risk of complications during treatment and surgery. Some procedures cannot be undertaken if you continue to smoke. If you stop smoking you benefit by:

  • Fewer complications relating to the anaesthetic
  • Reduced problems relating to wound healing
  • Shortened delay in recovery and mobility

The Stop Smoking Service can help you stop smoking and also support you while in hospital.

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What is secondhand smoke?

Secondhand smoke is other people's tobacco smoke. Wherever people smoke, there is secondhand smoke in the air.


Secondhand smoke contains:

  • Side stream smoke - smoke from the tip of the cigarette
  • Mainstream smoke - smoke that is breathed back out by the smoker

Breathing in secondhand smoke can damage almost every organ in the human body. It increases the risk of lung cancer by 24% and heart disease by 25%.


Secondhand smoke is very dangerous for children because their bodies are still developing. Cot death is twice as likely for babies whose mothers smoke. Children who grow up in a smoking household are much more likely to suffer from asthma, middle ear infections, coughs, colds and wheezes.


People exposed to secondhand smoke face the same dangers as smokers themselves. They breathe in the same poisonous gases and toxic chemicals so suffer from the same health risks.

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What are the dangers to infants, children and unborn babies?

Tobacco smoke contains thousands of toxic chemicals. These poisons get into the bodies of children who live with smokers.


Babies and children who grow up in a smoky atmosphere are:

  • Twice as likely to have asthma attacks and chest infections
  • More likely to need hospital care before their first birthday
  • Off sick from school more often
  • More likely to get more coughs, colds and wheezes

Medical research also shows they have:

  • Much higher risk of cot death than the children of non-smokers
  • Increased risk of meningitis
  • More chance of getting ear infections and 'glue ear', which can lead to partial deafness
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Please note, some of the content has been adapted from smokefree.nhs.uk


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