Most people are more familiar with the devastating long-term effects of smoking, but even having a random cigarette here and there can adversely affect your health. As it turns out, there are some pretty creepy things that happen to your body when you smoke just once, because honestly no amount of smoking is considered safe.
To learn more about the power of one puff, Romper spoke with two healthcare experts. Jonathan M. Samet, M.D., M.S., Dean and Professor of the Colorado School of Public Health, and Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos, M.D., MHS, a national volunteer medical spokesperson for the American Lung Association, shared some serious wisdom about the potentially harmful effects of smoking, and the addictive nature of nicotine.
If you are trying to break the habit, then consider some tips to quit smoking from Elite Daily to get started. For instance, some people have luck with apps designed to help smokers quit. If you need more help, don't hesitate to reach out to your doctor for advice, but don't feel discouraged, because it really is a challenging habit to kick. "Trying to quit can be so hard," acknowledges Dr. Galiatsatos, so if you know someone in your circle (or even if it's yourself) who is trying to stop, be sympathetic and supportive.
Speaking generally, it's healthiest to avoid cigarette and other tobacco smoke entirely. Read on to learn more about the many ways smoking even just one cigarette can change your body.
1. Your Body Rejects It
It's almost a trope, but first-time smokers are likely to choke a bit. "For a non-smoker, the smoke would be harsh and likely cause coughing," says Dr. Samet. Really, though, it's a serious warning sign from the body. "The first time you smoke, your lungs may feel like they are burning. You may cough violently. That’s your body telling you it’s being poisoned," according to the 2010 Surgeon's General report.
2. Your Sympathetic Nervous System Activates
By smoking one cigarette, the sympathetic nervous system is activated, with an increase in pulse rate and a slight increase in blood pressure, as Dr. Samet says. You might even physically feel these changes taking place in your body.
3. Inflammation — Not The Good Kind
There's a difference between good and bad inflammation in the body, as explained in Bustle. When it's beneficial to the body, the inflammation response can help heal injuries, for instance. (Think of a sprained ankle as it mends itself).
But the type of bodily inflammation triggered by cigarette smoking only produces negative effects on the body, as Dr. Galiatsatos explains. "All those chemicals result in significant inflammation of the body," says Dr. Galiatsatos, and it can stress your body out.
4. Oxidative Stress Can Have Longterm Effects
The tar in tobacco products can be particularly troublesome. "Tar products of cigarettes cause significant stress to the body," says Dr. Galiatsatos. "All products in tar manifest their oxidative stress in the body." This can be dangerous. Over time, oxidative stress has been linked to conditions including cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s, according to the Mayo Clinic. It's definitely something to avoid for a healthier lifestyle.
5. The Lungs Get Stressed Out
Then of course there's the whole issue of the smoke itself. "The chemicals in tobacco smoke would of course be delivered to the lung and some would enter the body, like carbon monoxide," says Dr. Samet.
Even vapes and e-cigarettes can adversely affect the lungs. "They are not safe. Your lungs were only designed to breathe in air," says Dr. Galiatsatos. Smoking or vaping anything potentially introduces hazardous chemicals to the most fragile parts of the lungs, Dr. Galiatsatos further explains.
6. Your Brain Gets Rewired
Don't forget about the thing that makes cigarettes so addictive in the first place. "Nicotine is not an innocent bystander," says Dr. Galiatsatos. "One puff, all that nicotine gets into your brain and begins the rewiring process, so your brain wants to keep doing what it just did." The process for a potential addiction can begin with just one drag on a cigarette. With this and all the other negative effects in mind, it's generally best to avoid smoking even once.