14 Lesser Known Risks of Smoking

Allison Tsai | Aug 30, 2012

Reviewed by Todd Gersten, MD

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We all know smoking kills through lung cancer and other oral and throat cancers. But there are also many lesser-known risks to lighting up.

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Smoking while pregnant increases risk of asthma in the baby

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A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that women who smoke during pregnancy increase their baby’s risk of asthma. More importantly, they found this was true only in the first trimester of pregnancy. Smoking during the third trimester or during the first year of birth showed no such risk.

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Smoking increases risk of ALS

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A 2009 study confirmed the widely held hypothesis that smoking increases the risk of developing Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), a debilitating neurological disease. Researchers found that longer someone smoked, the greater the risk of developing ALS. Those who smoked for more than 33 years had a two-fold increased risk of ALS compared to people who never smoked.

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Smoking weakens bones

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It’s been almost 20 years since scientists first discovered that smoking increases risk for osteoporosis and bone fractures, but a study in 2012 also found how it weakens bones. Researchers discovered that smokers produce large amounts of two proteins that increase production of osteoclasts, which break down old bone.

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Smoking leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)

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COPD is a term used to encompass emphysema and chronic bronchitis, which are both respiratory diseases caused largely by smoking. There is no cure for COPD, only treatments that can slow the progression of the disease.

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Increases risk of ectopic pregnancy

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Ectopic pregnancy occurs when the embryo implants outside the uterus in the Fallopian tube. In the uterus, certain genes experience reduced production when it prepares for normal implantation of the embryo. But, smoking reduces the production of these same genes in the Fallopian tube, which mimics the environment of the uterus and allows the embryo to implant there instead.

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Second-hand smoke leads to diabetes and obesity

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A study discovered that breathing in second-hand smoke increases risk of developing type 2 diabetes and obesity. Researchers used a blood marker to identify which study participants were exposed to smoke and found that these participants showed signs of factors that lead to type 2 diabetes.

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Smoking causes DNA changes that affect kids

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For fathers who smoke, research suggests that smoking damages DNA in the reproductive cells inherited by their children. This genetic damage can put your children at greater risk of developing certain cancers, such as childhood leukemia, and other diseases later in life.

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Smoking linked to skin cancer risk

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A study published in the Archives of Dermatology found a relationship between smoking and increased risk of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), a form of skin cancer. Researchers did a systematic review and meta-analysis of previous studies and found that smoking increased risk of SCC by 52 percent.

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Smoking increases harmful mouth bacteria

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A 2012 study found evidence that the mouths of smokers have a chaotic ecosystem of bacteria, and are much more susceptible to harmful bacteria. This can cause gum disease, such as periodontitis, which can result in bone loss and loss of teeth. It’s also possible that smoking affects the body’s ability fight infection.

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Speeds up cognitive decline in men

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One studyconcluded that men who smoke have a higher rate of cognitive decline, especially older men. Researchers found that decline was most evident in executive function — which includes working memory, attention span, problem-solving, verbal reasoning, mental flexibility, multi-tasking, inhibition, and monitoring of actions.

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Increases risk of heart disease and stroke

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Smokers are two to four times more likely to have a stroke or heart disease than people who have never smoked. It narrows the blood vessels, which can result in blockage of large arteries in the arms and legs. Smoking also can cause a weakening or swelling of the aorta, the main artery of the body, where it runs through the abdomen.

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Causes pregnancy and birth issues

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Smoking is known to cause infertility in both men and women. For women who are able to get pregnant, smoking increases the risk of preterm delivery, stillbirth, low birth weight, and sudden infant death syndrome. Another thing to remember is that women who smoke and are taking birth control pills are at greater risk of developing blood clots.

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Increases risk of peptic ulcers

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Peptic ulcers, which are located in the digestive tract, occur when a person has a certain bacterial infection. Research has shown that smokers are more likely to develop peptic ulcers than non-smokers. In severe cases, peptic ulcers can lead to death.

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Can cause erectile dysfunction

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Researchers from Tulane University surveyed 7,684 men about smoking and erectile dysfunction and found that there was a statistically significant link between the number of cigarettes men smoked and the likelihood that they would experience erectile dysfunction.