Discover the hidden risks of smoking


January 27, 2016

It’s not just about lung cancer. Here’s what else to know.


Smoking affects every organ in the body. Most of us know that cigarettes are bad for lungs and hearts, but did you know you’re more likely to suffer problems with your skin, your eyes and your sex life if you smoke?

Here are some of the less obvious risks of smoking revealed by recent studies:


Smoking wrinkles skin faster

Yes, we all get lines on our faces as we age. But a smoker’s skin shows more wear and tear, and earlier.

One study found that adding heavy smoking to a sun-worshipping habit leads to very leathery face. Heavy smokers (with 35 pack years – meaning the equivalent of smoking one pack a day for 35 years) with sun exposure of more than two hours per day were more than 11 times likelier at the same age to be heavily wrinkled than nonsmokers and those who spend less time in the sun.

Another study showed that the more you smoke, the more your skin ages, even on parts of your body not exposed to the sun (in the case of this study, the upper inner arms).

The research found that the number of cigarettes smoked per day – not chronological age – was the biggest predictor of how much aging happened in unexposed skin.


Smoking can result in blindness

Smoking increases the risk of cataracts (when the lens of the eye gets clouded) and macular degeneration (loss of the ability to see straight ahead).

Smokers have double the risk of cataracts compared with nonsmokers. And the risk is triple for heavy smokers (meaning 15 cigarettes per day or more). But people who have quit smoking for 25 years have a 20 percent lower risk of cataracts compared with current smokers.

Smokers are up to four times more likely than nonsmokers to develop macular degeneration. People who quit smoking, however, will slightly lower their risk (by 6 percent) of macular degeneration after one year. After 5 years, the risk drops by about 11 percent.


Tobacco use can cause impotence

Smoking is a cause of erectile dysfunction. Cigarette smoke interferes with the healthy functioning of blood vessels, including those in the penis. Smoking can therefore alter the blood flow needed for an erection. Smokers are about 50 percent more likely to have erectile dysfunction than nonsmokers.

Erectile dysfunction is sometimes an indication that a man will develop cardiovascular disease. The penile artery is smaller than coronary arteries, so smoking may affect erections before it affects the heart.

The good news is that quitting cigarettes starts to improve your health almost immediately. And there are many resources and medications available to help you quit. Talk to your doctor about which tactics and medications are best for you.

To work with a counselor to help you create a plan for quitting, call the Tennessee Tobacco Quitline, 1 800-784-8669, or use it online at tnquitline.org.

Those at highest risk for lung cancer are ages 55 to 74; and current or former smokers with 30 or more pack years. See if  lung cancer screenings are right for you.