A mug full of tar in your lungs

A mug full of tar  – which contains toxic chemicals that cause cancer – builds up in the lungs of a 20 a day smoker over the period of a year, according to Dr. Paul Kavanagh, Public Health Specialist with the HSE.

Dr. Kavanagh says: “Smoking is incredibly harmful to your health, causing a wide range of debilitating and fatal conditions.  There are approximately 800,000 smokers at any one time in Ireland”.

He said the odds facing smokers were bleak –  one in two smokers would die from a tobacco related disease and over 100 lives would be lost from smoking in Ireland each week.

“Trying to beat these odds is a dangerous game for smokers.  But quitting is a game-changer and saves lives.

“The 2016 Healthy Ireland Survey found that 1 in 2 smokers made an attempt to quit in the previous year, yet only 1 in 10 were successful.  Our message to people planning a QUIT attempt is to use our QUIT service – pick up the freephone 1800 201 203 and find out what services are available to you over the phone or in your local area. By using a support service like our makes you twice as likely to succeed.

“Quitting smoking is a process – most people who quit successfully do so after several attempts, but it is worth the effort. You will save money, feel better almost immediately – and most importantly, you will avoid the very real risk of serious, long-term and often killer illnesses.”

His Ten Top Tips to Quit Smoking:

  1. Prepare to quit: take a moment to write down your reasons for quitting. Keep them close to hand or even stick them on your fridge as a reminder to stay strong.
  2. Make a date to quit – the QUIT Team can help you set your quit date and stick to it.
  3. Get by with a little help from your friends – supportive friends, family and even work colleagues could make all the difference to you on your QUIT journey.
  4. Change your routine and habits –  do you normally have a cigarette with a coffee or tea? Then change your routine – have a cup of water instead or hold your cup in the  other hand.
  5. Get active – when you QUIT you may notice you have more time on your hands so take some time out for activities that you enjoy or try out some new ones.
  6. Think positive – remember it’s never too late to QUIT. Take it one day at a time, say today I’m not doing to smoke, tomorrow is another day.
  7. Watch your money grow – save your money that you would otherwise spend on cigarettes, you might be surprised at how quickly it all adds up.
  8. Keep check on cravings –your craving for nicotine will peak at 3-5 minutes and will pass if you deal with it. Have your heard of the 4Ds?  1. Delay at least 3 – 5 minutes and the urge will pass;    2. Drink a glass of water or fruit juice; 3. Distract yourself, move away from the situation; and 4. Deep breathe – breathe slowly and deeply.
  9. Watch what you eat. Do ‘a quick-fix shop’ to include foods such as fruit, crackers, etc. These are taken to satisfy the ‘hand to mouth action’.
  10. Help yourself QUIT by getting support from the QUIT Team. Our service is available to everyone and is free of charge. By using a support service like ours makes you twice as likely to succeed.

The QUIT Team are standing by to help you:

Dr. Kavanagh says that the health benefits started right away when people gave up smoking:

  • “Within 20 minutes your circulation will improve, your heart rate and blood pressure will get lower. This reduces your risk of heart attack straight away.
  • “Within 24-48 hours all the carbon monoxide will have left your body.
  • “Within a few days your sense of smell and taste will start to improve.
  • “After 72 hours your breathing will improve and your energy levels will increase.
  • “Once you give up, your lungs start to fight back by coughing up tar. A mug full of tar builds up in the lungs of a 20 a day smoker over the period of a year. It is the toxic chemicals in tar that cause cancer.
  • “Within 2 or 3 months your lung capacity can increase by up to 30%.
  • “Within one year your chance of heart attack drops by half and within ten years the risk drops to almost the same as a non-smoker
  • “Within five years the risk of smoking related cancers will be greatly reduced.

It is estimated that 5,962 people are killed annually by smoking in Ireland. The estimated annual cost for the public health service is €506 million. In the acute sector alone, smoking was responsible for more than 100,000 hospital in-patient episodes: one-in-three adult hospital admissions due to respiratory disease, one-in-five due to cardiovascular disease and one in 10 due to cancer were all attributable to smoking.

Here are some of the chemicals contained in each cigarette:

  • Nicotine is a colourless, poisonous alkaloid, derived from the tobacco plant.  It is a powerful drug, which affects the brain and quickly becomes addictive. It can also be found in weedkiller.
  • “Tar” is the term used to describe the toxic chemicals found in cigarettes. This is a sticky brown substance that forms when tobacco cools and condenses. It collects in the lungs and can cause cancer.
  • Carbon Monoxide is an odourless, colourless gas that is released from burning tobacco. When it is inhaled it enters the blood stream and interferes with the working of the heart and the blood vessels. Up to 15% of a smoker’s blood can be carrying carbon monoxide instead of oxygen.
  • Arsenic-containing pesticides used in tobacco farming occur in small quantities in cigarette smoke. Arsenic is commonly found in rat poison.
    Ammonia is a toxic, colourless gas with a sharp odour. Ammonia compounds are commonly used in cleaning products and fertilizers. Also used to boost the impact of nicotine in manufactured cigarettes.
  • Acetone is a volatile liquid ketone, used as a solvent, for example, in nail polish remover.