Some of my greatest achievements as a personal trainer in London have been helping clients to quit smoking. As the biggest single avoidable cause of death and disease in the world, smoking is a killer and a wrecker of your quality of life. If you smoke, the sooner you quit the better, for yourself and everyone around you.
Cigarette smoke contains over 40 carcinogenic (cancer-causing) toxins, and the sheer quantity of poisons in cigarettes is something my clients who smoked were not aware of. Obviously this information is not something the cigarette manufacturers are keen to include on their packets. I had a personal training client in east London who was unaware of the majority of the cancer-causing toxins, and this knowledge alone was the main trigger to motivate her to stop smoking for good.
Here are some of the worst toxins in cigarette smoke:
This is the number one cause of lung and throat cancer in smokers. Tar is a sticky brown substance made up of toxic particulates generated by burning tobacco. It accumulates in the lungs, decreasing lung function, reducing your immunity to lung infections and diseases, and reduces your physical fitness significantly.
Tar also stains smokers’ teeth and fingers, and stains the walls and ceilings a yellowish brown in areas where people smoke repeatedly over time. When I enter a personal training client’s home for the first time, if they’re a smoker, it’s easy to spot where they do most of their smoking indoors.
The vaping (or e-cigarette) manufacturers and retailers like to make out that nicotine is harmless, but over the long term it damages the heart, blood vessels, and endocrine system (that is your hormonal system, which performs many vital functions in the body).
Nicotine is highly addictive, and this is what makes it so hard to quit smoking. This is why the tobacco manufacturers include nicotine in their cigarettes, because an addicted customer is a customer for life. However, it is possible to break free from the addiction, just as alcoholics and drug addicts can be cured from their addiction.
My London clients who smoked said it helped to have a personal trainer to encourage them to quit, and to combine this with exercise and healthy eating to accelerate the recovery process. In addition, the natural high from vigorous exercise is a perfect replacement for the high from nicotine.
This is a chemical used to preserve dead bodies. Why would anyone voluntarily inhale this?
Ammonia is a toxic gas, and it is used in cleaning products. It is also used by cigarette manufacturers to increase the impact of nicotine, by boosting the absorption of nicotine into the lungs and around the body, which heightens the addictive effect.
One of the aims of the cigarette companies is to get smokers addicted as fast as possible, particularly young smokers, and ammonia is a very effective method of achieving this.
As a personal trainer, I often have to convince clients of things that they find hard to believe, before I can persuade them to take action. But convincing a smoker that cigarette smoke contains the same gas the Nazis used to kill 6 million Jews in the Holocaust during WW11 (Zyklon B was the name given to hydrogen cyanide by the Nazis) was not easy. I had to show evidence in black and white from several reliable sources before they believed me. But once they did, it was relatively easy for them to quit. Knowledge is power.
Hydrogen cyanide is present in second hand smoke, which is one reason why second hand smoke is such a health risk, particularly to children. Short term symptoms include headaches, dizziness and fatigue. Long term it increases risk of lung cancer.
Inorganic arsenic is found in cigarettes because tobacco plantations in several countries use pesticides containing arsenic. Arsenic is also found in rat poison.
This toxin is a significant cause of lung cancer and prostate cancer. Its main industrial use is in batteries, but it is also found in cigarette smoke. This toxic heavy metal causes damage to the liver, kidneys, lungs, causes bone deterioration over the long term, and is harmful to blood.
Used in industrial dyes and synthetic rubber manufacturing, this toxin is present in cigarette smoke and is linked to leukemia.
Linked to lung infections and lung cancer.
The insecticide DDT (short for dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) has been banned in the US since 1972, but it is still used in some tobacco plantations around the world, as tobacco is not classed as a food crop, and so escapes the ban on the use of DDT on food crops. This powerful insecticide causes nerve spasms and death in insects. It is found in cigarette smoke in cases where the tobacco has been sourced from countries which still use DDT to keep their tobacco plantations pest-free.
This poison is lethal to humans in large amounts. It killed over 2,000 people in India in the notorious Bhopal chemical leak in 1994. This toxic chemical is found in cigarette smoke.
You probably remember the murder of Alexander Litvinenko in November 2006 by former KGB operatives in a London hotel. Polonium, a radioactive poison, was administered to a cup of tea he drank. This toxin is also found in cigarette smoke.
For more information about polonium in cigarettes, read the Cancer Research UK article published on 24 May 2012: “Tobacco firms have failed to act on radioactivity in cigarettes”.
This deadly gas is found in diesel exhaust fumes, and is one of the main reasons why London’s air is so toxic. Air pollution is a major issue in our capital, and nitrogen dioxide’s link with diesel is well known. Less well known is the fact that this poison is also found in cigarette smoke. It increases the risk of a range of respiratory diseases.
Recovery from smoking
The good news I tell my personal training clients is that the body has a remarkable ability to heal itself once you stop smoking. Some aspects of recovery are very quick, others take years, so the sooner you stop the better.
Within 12 hours of quitting, your carbon monoxide levels return to normal. Within 48 hours your lungs start the recovery process when you cough up mucus containing toxic debris from smoking. Your sense of taste and smell start to recover.
Within two weeks, the anxiety and irritability that occurs when you quit start to subside, and the nerve damage caused by smoking starts to repair, as does the blood supply to your mouth and gums. Symptoms of bad breath common to smokers starts to subside too. Within 21 days you are no longer addicted to nicotine. If you can get through this first three weeks without smoking, you’re very likely to be able to quit forever.
Full lung recovery takes a little longer, up to 9 months. After 10-15 years following the date you quit smoking your chances of getting heart disease, stroke, lung cancer and tooth loss are reduced to half that of a smoker. The more healthily you eat, the faster this recovery will be.
It’s very rewarding as a personal trainer to be able to say you’ve helped someone to turn their lives around. Helping a personal training client to quit smoking can be a life-saver, and it’s certainly the most effective way to improve someone’s quality of life.
Dominic Londesborough is a personal trainer in London, and founder of Fitness Buddy, the social network for Londoners.