There are an estimated 6.9 million cigarette smokers in the UK[i], despite the dozens of health risks that smoking presents. It’s something that many people pick up as a habit when they are young, and quickly become addicted to it. Although education surrounding the risks of smoking has become much better in recent years, there is still a long way to go in the battle to stop smoking across the population, for good.

The effects of smoking on the body

The typical risk that most people associate with smoking is lung cancer or lung disease. However, the risks of smoking extend to other areas of the body – causing diseases and conditions which are often not reversible.


The risk of cancer is increased by smoking. Some of these cancers include:

  • Bladder Cancer – a third of all bladder cancer cases are caused by smoking. Symptoms of bladder cancer can include frequency or urge incontinence, blood in the urine, and more.
  • Bowel Cancer – 7% of bowel cancer cases in the UK have a link with smoking. Symptoms can include blood in the stool, sudden weight loss, and eventually may lead to bowel incontinence. Read more about the link between bowel cancer and incontinence.
  • Mouth Cancer – Smokers are 10x more likely to develop oral cancers. Symptoms of oral cancers include pain, growths, and sores.
  • Oesophagus Cancer – 35 in 100 cases of oesophagus cancer are caused by smoking. Symptoms of oesophagus cancer can include difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite/weight loss and pain in the stomach, back, or chest.


As well as cancers, the risk of developing different conditions across the body increases when you smoke. Those who smoke are at high risk of heart disease, gum disease, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and more.

What’s in a cigarette?

Cigarettes contain over 60 chemicals

Most of us are aware of the chemicals that go into cigarettes which make them so harmful. But do you know how harmful these chemicals are and which other household products they are used in? For example, Acetone, which is the main ingredient in nail polish remover, is also found in cigarettes! Other chemicals include:

These chemicals are highly damaging. Below, we explain these chemicals further

  • Formaldehyde – embalming fluid. This is not added to cigarettes but is naturally produced when the components of a cigarette (sugars, cellulose fibres, carob, etc.) are lit and burn together.
  • Methanol – a main component in rocket fuel. This forms a major part of cigarette smoke. The chemical converts to formaldehyde in the liver, which can cause disease.
  • Nicotine – is highly addictive and used as an insecticide. Most cigarettes contain around 10 milligrams of the chemical. It causes your brain to associate smoking with pleasure, which causes addiction.
  • Tar – used for laying roads. This chemical is created by burning cigarettes. It is a cancer-causing chemical that forms a sticky layer inside your lungs, leading to potential damage and disease.
  • Ammonia – a household cleaner. Used as a filler for tobacco, ammonia makes it easier for the body to absorb nicotine.
  • Arsenic – used in rat poison. Although not added to cigarettes directly, it is usually a component of pesticides that are used to grow tobacco.
  • Butane – used in lighter fluid. Butane is used to keep the tip of a cigarette burning. It is highly toxic.
  • Cadmium – active component in battery acid. This is another chemical that is used in pesticides which are used when farming tobacco. It causes oxidative damage to molecules within the body.
  • Carbon monoxide – is released when cigarettes are lit and burned. Each cigarette produces 5 – 20.2mg of carbon monoxide. It is a toxic gas that replaces oxygen and can prevent your lungs and heart from working properly.
  • Lead – a harmful compound used in batteries. This is one of many metals that are present in cigarettes. Lead deposits can accumulate in the lungs and build up in your airways.

Have smoking laws been effective?

Over the past couple of decades, laws and legislation have been put in place to reduce the number of smokers in the UK. The data so far shows that these have had varying levels of success, with the number of people smoking having reduced significantly compared to 2011.

Since 2011, the prevalence of smokers has decreased greatly.

The proportion of smokers in the UK has fallen massively since 2011 and is predicted to keep dropping at a steady rate.

2007 – The UK Smoking Ban was rolled out, banning smoking in enclosed public spaces. Smoking age rose to 18

2008 – Cigarette packaging started carrying picture warnings

2011 – Tobacco vending machines banned in the UK

2014 – Legislation changes so picture warnings must cover 65% of cigarette packaging

Packs of less than 20 cigarettes prohibited from sale

2015 – Standardised cigarette packaging was introduced

Smoking in a car with a child present was made illegal

Tips for Quitting Smoking

Smoking is an addiction, and quitting can be very difficult – especially for those who have been smoking for many years. As well as the physical addition to nicotine in the cigarettes, the physical habit of smoking is something which is notoriously hard to break.

Remember that you don’t need to struggle in silence on your journey to quitting smoking……..

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