Smoking Stinks, Quitting Comes Out Smelling Like a Rose

December 19, 2009

General Information

Even kitties prefer the smell of roses.  (Photo Credit: Melvin T. Schlubman on Flickr)“Tobacco use, particularly cigarette smoking, is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States” – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Everyone has heard about the negative effects of smoke, second-hand smoke, and now even third-hand smoke.  How does smoking impact physical therapy?  Smokers actually take longer to heal than nonsmokers, thus more time is required to rehab an injury.  Most people have to quit before any elective surgeries for this reason.  Less likely to heal = more complications.  Smoking also affects your heart and lungs, making exercise more difficult.  Below I share a few facts about how smoking affects the body, its risks, and the benefits of quitting.

About one-third of all cancers are due to cigarette smoking.  Also, cigarette smoking increases the risk of stroke by approximately 50%.  Stroke is an interruption in blood flow to the brain that results in brain damage.  It is the leading cause of adult disability, and the third leading cause of death in America.

The Cardiovascular System

  • Smoking exacerbates circulatory problems leading to peripheral vascular disease, which limits the body’s ability to heal. This can lead to foot amputation in those whom have diabetes.
  • Smoking increases your risk of developing coronary heart disease which increases your risk of having a heart attack.
  • Nicotine increases the LDL receptors of blood vessels, contributing to high cholesterol.
  • Tobacco products elevate the heart rate and lead to high blood pressure.
  • Buerger’s Disease, a vasculitis affecting peripheral blood vessels is  associated with smoking.  This compromises circulation and healing.

The Digestive System

  • Smoking weakens the lower esophageal sphincter.  This causes stomach acids to reach the esophagus, which leads to heartburn and esophageal damage.
  • Smoking increases the risk of infection from a bacterium, H. pylori, which is responsible for causing peptic ulcers.  Further, the ulcers may heal slowly or not at all.
  • Smoking can cause liver disease, harming the liver’s ability to process toxins.
  • Smoking increases the risk of developing Crohn’s Disease, swelling deep in the lining of the intestine, which causes pain and diarrhea.
  • Several studies show that smoking may increase the risk of developing gallstones.

The Pulmonary System

  • Cigarette smoking is the greatest risk factor for lung cancer.
  • Smoking is the major factor for developing emphysema, a disease that destroys lung tissue.
  • Irritants such as cigarette smoking can cause chronic bronchitis, an inflammation of the lungs that obstructs air flow and increases mucous production.

The message is out there that smoking is bad for you.  What exactly are the benefits of quitting?  Below it’s broken down into benefits from as little as 20 minutes after quitting to 15 years later.

...80's Poison rock ballad....  (Photo Credit: quinn.anya on Flickr)

Photo Credit: Quinn Dombrowski

Immediate and Long-term Benefits of Quitting

20 minutes later… blood pressure, pulse, and body temperature return to your baseline normal level
8 hours later… oxygen levels increase, carbon monoxide levels decrease in the body
1 day later… your risk of heart attack decreases
2 days later… you will be able to smell and taste better, nerve endings begin repairing
2 weeks to 3 months later… improved circulation and lung function, reduced shortness of breath, improved ability to exercise
1-9 months later… Reduced coughing, sinus congestion, and fatigue; increased energy
1 year later… Risk of coronary heart disease is reduced to one-half that of a smoker
5 years later… Risk of lung cancer is reduced by 50%, reduced risk of stroke, risk of oropharyngeal cancer decreased to one-half that of a smoker
10 years later… Lung cancer death rate corresponds to nonsmoker’s rate
15 years later… Risk of coronary heart disease equals that of a nonsmoker

Of course, every rose has its thorn.  To get the benefits of quitting you actually have to give it up.  Nicotine is addictive and overcoming such an addiction is no bed of roses.

Guidelines for Quitting

  • Don’t go it alone and don’t quit cold turkey!  Your body has developed a dependency on nicotine and you need to carefully wean yourself from this drug.  Seek the advice of your physician.
  • Use a medication approved by the FDA
  • Nicotine replacement therapy: gum, inhaler, nasal spray, patch
  • Nonnicotine pharmacologic aids:  consult with your physician

Feel free to share this with others!

References and Resources

Office on Smoking and Health Nat’l Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (

National Cancer Institute’s Smoking Quitline (1-877-44U-QUIT)

Boissonnault, W.G., Fuller, K.S., & Goodman, C. C. (2003). Pathology: Implications for the Physical Therapist (2nd ed.). Philadelphia, PA: Saunders.



Physical Therapy Orthopaedic Specialist at Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System

My name is Monique Serpas, PT, DPT, OCS. I am a physical therapist and board-certified Orthopaedic Clinical Specialist practicing at the Southeast Louisiana Healthcare System in New Orleans, LA. I realize how difficult it can be to overcome an injury or manage a chronic condition and am focused on helping my clients achieve wellness through a physically active lifestyle. I treat orthopaedic, balance, and vestibular disorders and practice using a combination of hands-on manual therapy, therapeutic exercise, and education. This enables my patients to assist in their own recovery and injury prevention. I also have developed fall prevention and golf-related rehab programs in the past. I hold a Doctor of Physical Therapy from Concordia University Wisconsin (2008) and a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from Louisiana State University (2004). I am a member of the American Physical Therapy Association (APTA), Louisiana Physical Therapy Association (LPTA), and the Orthopaedic and Neurology sections of the APTA.

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Physical Therapist at New Orleans' Touro Infirmary. I give my patients the information they need to live well.
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