mary_simmons.jpgLiving Well: 101 Florida A & M University

TALLAHASSEE — Typically, the harmful effects of tobacco smoke are associated with diseases and conditions that affect the lungs. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), for example, causes shortness of breath when performing everyday activities due to airway blockages.

COPD is the leading cause of death in the United States, and 90 percent of these deaths are caused by tobacco smoke according to the Center for Disease Control.

In fact, tobacco use accounts for more deaths annually compared to all deaths from Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV), illicit drugs, motor vehicle injuries, suicide, alcohol use, and murder

Thus, the connection between tobacco use and lung diseases such as chronic bronchitis and emphysema, which is brought on by COPD, is clear to most. Emphysema is a lung disease that causes damage to the air sacs in the lungs, which can lead to shortness of breath, a decrease in oxygen in the lung tissue, and a reduction in daily activities. 
Chronic bronchitis is when the lungs become inflamed due to some type of irritant that is introduced into the airways.

When this happens, it causes difficulty in breathing.

Tobacco smoke is also harmful to those who suffer from asthma. When tobacco smoke is inhaled by asthmatics, it makes the asthma worse and can lead to death.

In the United States, there are approximately 34.1 million people who have been diagnosed with asthma and 250,000 asthma related deaths. Tobacco use is attributed to all lung cancer mortalities at a rate of 90 percent in males and 80 percent in females.

Still, hidden behind the tobacco cloud are dangers lurking for the human heart as well. Research shows that more than 25 percent of all heart disease deaths are related to tobacco smoke. In fact, cigarette smoking causes coronary heart disease, which is the leading cause of death for men and women in the United States.

Additionally, nonsmokers increase their heart disease risk by 25-30 percent just from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Stop tobacco use today!

It is possible to defeat these preventable diseases and live a healthier, normal, and productive life once tobacco use is removed from the equation. The most obvious solution to avoid heart and lung diseases caused by tobacco use is to quite smoking altogether.

If you are having trouble quitting, however, there are other ways to wean yourself off this deadly habit. Such remedies include:

1) Use a nicotine patch or chewing gum.
2) Talk to an expert.
3) Join a smoking cessation class.
4) Gradually reduce the amount of tobacco used daily.
5) Participate in a support group.
6) Eliminate underlying causes that motivate your tobacco use.
7) Replace the urge to smoke with a healthier habit, like regular exercise. 

Before National American Hearth Month is over, take the challenge to help yourself or a loved one to protect their heart and lungs against the harmful effects of tobacco smoke.

*Mary Simmons, Ph.D. is an associate professor/director in the Division of Cardiopulmonary Sciences at the School of Allied Health Sciences at Florida A&M University. Join Simmons on Feb. 21 at 6 p.m. for a live Twitter chat for expert advice on tobacco use and heart disease.  Follow @ FAMU_LivingWell. Visit