Carcinogens are substances known to cause cancer. Smoking cigarettes introduces these carcinogens into the lungs that impacts all cells in the body by distribution through the oxygenated blood. The human body is comprised of billions of cells; they make up the skin, organs, blood vessels and even the chemical neurotransmitters that send messages to and from the brain. Every cell carries genetic information, like a fingerprint of every individual and their chemical make-up. When carcinogens invade the body they also invade these genetic fingerprints, causing myriad effects of cigarette smoking in cells.
Mutation refers to the changing of a cell structure from its intended form. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services released a statement in 2008 concluding their findings: Cigarette smoking interferes with the normal division of cells and causes a mutation in the genes. Prior to cell death, cells will replicate themselves, divide and re-generate daughter cells. This process is called mitosis, and is essential to sustain life. Cigarette smoking impacts this process by changing the mitosis process, and altering the cycle of cell regeneration and division. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, this gene mutation can last up to 20 years after a person stops smoking.
Throughout their life cycle, cell walls can become damaged requiring repair. When the cells cannot repair themselves they die and are usually flushed out with antioxidants, or the chemicals that clean the body of toxins and carcinogens. Cigarette smoking has been shown to decrease the levels of antioxidants present in the blood, allowing for dead cells to build-up throughout the body, according to Medindia.net. This interference with cell repair also leads to an early aging process, in that the precipitous death of cells leads to aging, notes Biology-online.org. This cellular disruption can actually take an average of 10 years off the normal human lifespan.
Oxygenation and Immune Impairment
Cigarette smoking affects the ability to exchange gases, known as oxygenation, and impacts the human immune system function, according to "New England Journal of Medicine." Red blood cells, a component of human blood, are responsible for carrying a load of oxygen from the lungs to all cells in the body. Cigarette smoke byproducts, mainly carbon dioxide, irreversibly bind with these red blood cells leaving less room to carry the oxygen load. Cigarette smoking impacts the immune system by killing neutrophils in the lungs, which are a form of white blood cell used to fight and clear toxins and infection from the body. According to "New England Journal of Medicine," when introduced to cigarette smoke, these neutrophils lose their ability to move and essentially get stuck in the tiny veins of the lungs further impacting immune function and oxygenation ability.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Smoking’s Effects on Genes May Play a Role in Lung Cancer Development and Survival
- Medindia.net: Smoking and Cancer—How is Cigarette Smoking Harmful to the Human Body?
- Biology-online.org: Smoking Accelerates Cell Aging
- "New England Journal of Medicine": The Effect of Cigarette Smoking on Neutrophil Kinetics in Human Lungs