Long-term cigarette smoking has progressive ill effects on the entire body. Short-term changes in heart rate and breathing patterns give way to chronic and potentially fatal health problems. Smoking for 10 or 15 years or more forms a trend that shapes how tobacco users will age, as skin, bones, eyesight and teeth are affected.
Long-term smoking also affects the current quality of life. Growing physical restrictions define smokers' activity levels, while the health issues raised by smoking bear on personal and work relationships.
Smoking for 15 years or more demonstrates the hold that tobacco addiction has on an individual. Persistent cigarette smoking raises the odds of dying from a smoking-related disease. In fact, the American Cancer Society reports that over 50 percent of smokers do succumb to fatal health problems due to tobacco use. It may take long-term smokers up to 10 quit attempts, but reversing the physical damage sustained over 15 years can begin as soon as smoking ends.
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease
By the time smoking becomes an ingrained habit, bronchial disease has probably already set in. The "smoker's cough" of chronic bronchitis may be a constant companion. The reduced lung function that it indicates contributes to the progression of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) over the years.
The American Lung Association points out that this health problem develops very slowly, so that by the time smokers seek medical help, the lungs are severely damaged. The body's tolerance for physical exercise diminishes slowly as well, but after 15 or so years of tobacco use, activities such as running or climbing stairs may become taxing. If cigarette smoking persists, long-term smokers may face disability and death from emphysema.
Heart Health Problems
Smoking raises blood cholesterol levels, damaging blood vessels and placing stress on the heart. In 15 years of tobacco use, depending on other factors, smokers may contract high blood pressure, atherosclerosis and coronary heart disease. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that the risks for heart attack and stroke rise over the long term. Conversely, these risks drop to normal 15 years after quitting.
Cancer risk also grows along with every cigarette smoked, according to the CDC. The chances of getting cancer never fade completely, but quitting cigarette smoking can cut some of the risks in half. In addition to lung cancer, which claims the most lives of smokers, carcinogenesis can occur in other areas of the body. The U.S. Surgeon General reports that smoking can cause cancer of the mouth, throat, stomach, pancreas, bladder, kidney and uterus.