Ever wondered whether the occasional cigarette can really do any damage? If you're a social smoker, or you have friends and family who inflict their second-hand smoke on you at the weekends - read our investigation into the effects of low-level cigarette exposure.
- The effects of 1 cigarette on your body - or even if you only smoke on a big night out.
- How to detox + nourish the body if you have been smoking.
- Tips on how to get distracted and give up the habit easily.
Do ‘non-smokers’, who partake only once in a while, escape the negative effects of cigarettes? Social smoking is a habit that slips under the radar because the people doing it often don’t consider themselves to be smokers. Let's look at what's in a cigarette and how it affects your body:
What’s one cigarette?
The facts and stats on smoking just one cigarette may give you the shudders.
It’s an inescapable truth that the content of a cigarette amounts to a list of poisons. These include arsenic, tar, formaldehyde, lead, carbon monoxide and thousands more. Just to give an idea of how poisonous some of these are: according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer formaldehyde is a carcinogenic toxin causing cancer in both humans and animals. Carbon monoxide is a dangerous gas that even at small levels can cause heart disease. Carbon monoxide from one cigarette can almost instantly cause a shortness of breath and an increased heart rate. Arsenic is a heavy metal that is used in rat poison and is linked to various types of cancer. There are over 70 more carcinogens present in just one cigarette.
Burning these nasties releases free radicals that smokers (and the unlucky people next to them) inhale.
Free radicals are crazy little compounds that whizz around our bodies stealing electrons from other cells, damaging their structure. This can end up killing your cells unless you have enough antioxidants. The role of antioxidants is to neutralise free radicals before they can attack our good cells. We naturally produce our own antioxidants and many more come from nutrients in our food, including Vitamins C, E and polyphenols from foods such as Organic Burst Acai. Because smoking uses antioxidants up so quickly, it’s important to protect yourself by eating extra antioxidant-rich foods.
Smoking starves your blood of oxygen
Inhaling smoke affects your heart rate, and how the blood flows around our bodies. It also reduces the amount of oxygen in the blood because carbon monoxide sticks to some of the red blood cells, blocking oxygen – this effect lasts for several days! It goes without saying that the lungs – the way we get our oxygen – are immediately constricted by the first puff of a cigarette.
You can see cell damage in the skin (wrinkles, lines, sagging – eek!), but it’s also a huge factor in the risk of developing a disease as you get older. Cell damage from free radicals and lack of oxygen directly links smoking and deaths from respiratory disease, cancer and cardiovascular disease.
What if I only smoke on a night out?
Alcohol is unfortunately another way that we starve oxygen to our cells – the intoxicated (drunken!) sensation is partly caused by lack of oxygen to your brain, which also kills its precious cells. When ‘treating yourself’ to a few cigarettes on a rare night out, the double whammy of smoking plus a few glasses of booze will have a cumulative effect. No wonder people report worse hangovers after smoking the night before.
How to move from social smoker to non-smoker:
Smoking is a nutrient robber
Because smoking depletes our antioxidant stores, the best thing you can do if you smoke, no matter how infrequently, is to eat more of the nutrients that protect our cells.
- Vitamin C is an abundant antioxidant vitamin in our cells and it is the first thing to go when we’re faced with lots of smoke. Eat lots of brightly coloured fruits and vegetables like berries, peppers, sweet potatoes, throughout the day as well as super foods such as Organic Burst Baobab.
- EXPERT TIP: this nutrient doesn’t last long in our bodies, so eating Vit C rich foods every few hours is the perfect way to keep your levels topped up.
- Vitamin E is equally important when it comes to protecting your cells. Include foods such as almonds, hazelnuts, sunflower seeds, avocados and green leafy vegetables every day.
- EXPERT TIP: eat green veg with a drizzle of olive oil or organic grass-fed butter to increase your absorption of fat-soluble Vitamin E.
- There are thousands more fantastic antioxidants in the plant and animal world, so look around for foods with a high ORAC score (oxygen radical absorbance capacity) if you think you need a boost.
- EXPERT TIP: Organic Burst Acai Berry has an ORAC score of 70,000! Simply take 4 capsules morning and 4 in the evening.
Clean up your act
Perhaps the reason why many smokers (especially young people) don’t feel unwell is that our bodies package up toxins and store them safely away in the liver and fat cells where they wait to be detoxified and sent packing at a later date when the liver is less overloaded. If we don’t give our bodies a complete break from the toxic onslaught for a few weeks every year, the build up is never dealt with and can be a cause of disease.
- Consider a detox for a couple of weeks 4 times per year, where you avoid all processed food, caffeine, grains, sugar, alcohol, cigarettes and instead eat only pure, natural, raw fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. Vegetable juices are extremely powerful in a detox regime, as is drinking a lot of mineral/filtered water.
- EXPERT TIP: You could even try fasting for a few days (see our article about the 5:2 diet to get some ideas).
- Give your detoxification organs some extra support by taking Organic Burst Chlorella every day. Chlorella promotes detoxification and supports the liver, gallbladder and kidneys. Numerous studies show that chlorella helps to remove heavy metals such as arsenic, cadmium and lead found in cigarette smoke from the body.
- EXPERT TIP: Organic Burst Chlorella has a cracked cell wall that means its digestibility is 85% as opposed to only 40-50% when the cell wall is intact.
Try out some of these ideas to distract you from reaching for a cigarette when the urge arises.
- If you smoke the odd cigarette after a particularly hideous meeting at work, head outside for some fresh air instead. Practice a breathing meditation: breathing in deeply for a count of 4, hold for 4 and breathe out for 4. See if you can increase the count over time.
- Get yourself some Chinese health balls and keep them out on your desk or table at home. Swivelling them in your palm massages acupressure points on the hand and can be a very relaxing, not to mention distracting exercise.
- When at a party full of friends smoking, get out of the line of fire by busying yourself with a job – offer to fetch everyone a new drink, help the host by collecting empties and rubbish, seek out other non-smokers and introduce yourself.
- Understand habits and how cravings affect your brain and routine by reading more about them, The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg is a great book on just that!
The good news is, if you’re a light smoker, it’s easier to give up and your body has much more chance at full recovery. You just need that motivator to change!
What do you think?
Share your own tips and hacks to stop social smoking with your fellow Bursters! Share your own experience if you managed to throw away the habit.
Action on Smoking and Health: http://www.ash.org.uk/files/documents/ASH_93.pdf
World Health Organisation: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs339/en/
Royal Society of Chemistry: http://www.rsc.org/publishing/chemscience/volume/2005/12/toxic_smoke.asp
American Heart Association: http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/121/13/1518.full.pdf+html
UK Health Protection Agency: http://www.hpa.org.uk/webc/hpawebfile/hpaweb_c/1219908739327
Carbon Monoxide Survivor: http://www.carbon-monoxide-survivor.com/carbon-monoxide-in-cigarettes.html