Today, it’s common knowledge that cigarettes and other tobacco products contain carcinogens that increase the risk of developing cancer, but there are a wealth of other substances found in tobacco products that behave like proinflammatory and immunosuppressive agents.
These substances include nitrogen oxides, cadmium, hydroxyquinone, acetone, benzopyrenes, carbon monoxide, ammonia, formaldehyde, nicotine, and tar.
Your body’s immune system is responsible for protecting you against disease and infection.
Those who use tobacco products put themselves more at risk not only from the several health issues caused by smoking, but from the many infections and diseases that could pass through a compromised immune system.
Smoking is responsible for the deaths of over 8 million people annually across the globe. Evidence has shown that cigarettes cause numerous types of diseases in addition to cancer.
Nicotine, the main addictive substance found in tobacco products, has been observed as having immunosuppressive qualities which can cause a lowering in neutrophillic phagocytic activity.
It can also have a large impact on chemotaxis and cell signaling, as well as the inhibition of releasing reaction oxygen species (ROS). This ROS inhibition can decrease the ability of neutrophils to compromise pathogens.
Inside a smoker’s lungs, cigarette smoke can cause a buildup of inflammatory agents. Within these agents, macrophages can cause damage to the tissue, which, in turn, releases even more inflammatory agents.
This feedback loop can cause persistent chronic inflammatory syndrome.
Below are some additional ways that smoking tobacco products can have an impact on the immune system.
- There are multiple chemical compounds found in tobacco smoke that can make the body’s immune system less effective at fighting off infection and disease.
- Smokers can have impaired balance/equilibrium of their immune system, increasing the likelihood of them developing autoimmune disorders.
- Smokers have lower levels of antioxidants in their bloodstream, including vitamin C. Vitamin C is vital for the proper functioning of the immune system, in addition to the resistance to infections and the protection of the lungs.
Because of the evidence that smoking has a detrimental impact on people’s immune systems, it’s obvious that people who smoke are more at risk from having a severe reaction to the novel coronavirus. The reasons for this include the following:
- Many smokers have preexisting lung conditions such as lung disease, which in turn increases their chances of contracting COVID-19 and increases the likelihood that their symptoms could be severe and even life-threatening.
- The long-term smoking of cigarettes can greatly reduce the lung capacity, which increases a smokers’ chance of contracting the virus and suffering a more severe reaction.
- Because smoking cigarettes compromises the immune system, smokers are a part of the population who are considered more vulnerable to the virus and therefore should take extra precautions against it.
How Can Stopping Smoking Help Your Immune System?
Quitting smoking will greatly improve the function of the immune system.
Once the immune system is no longer compromised by the exposure to the various chemical compounds found in tobacco smoke, the immune system will regain its ability to function properly.
The use of hypnotherapy, addiction counselling, or nicotine replacements can greatly improve a smokers’ ability to quit smoking cigarettes permanently.
According to research by the Italian Institute for Genomic Medicine and the University of Turin, the immune system of smokers can fully restore itself after quitting.
This research found that people who smoked cigarettes had a reduced level of protective immune cells and a higher level of cells that lead to chronic inflammation. Those who had previously smoked but quit smoking had normal levels of these two cells.
Tobacco, Immunity And The Brain
Research has shown that smoking can have significant effects on the brain and its ability to respond to systemic infections and inflammation.
This study by Hillmer looked into the neuroimmune function of people who were frequent smokers.
In the study, they used neuroimaging to look at the brains of 8 smokers and 9 non-smokers after they were administered an endotoxin that would activate an immune response.
Following the injection of the endotoxin, they found that the autoimmune response of smokers was significantly compromised compared to that of the non-smokers.
This effect was observed to be located in specific regions of the brain and not across the entire brain of the smokers.
The findings of this study concluded that some vital areas of the brain that control executive function, desire, and motivation were dysfunctional in those who smoked cigarettes.
This could have a significant effect on a smoker’s ability to quit cigarettes, which makes tobacco so highly addictive.
How Do The Chemicals In Tobacco Smoke Impact The Immune System?
There are over 7000 different chemical compounds found in tobacco smoke. They all have some influence on the body and the immune system, and they can have a negative effect on the body’s ability to fend off infection and disease.
Nicotine is the most recognizable chemical found in tobacco. Not only is it recognized as being highly addictive, it also has proinflammatory and immunosuppressant properties.
Due to these properties, nicotine is able to reduce the body’s immune functions by affecting neutrophils and phagocytes. A weakened immune system can increase the risk of a whole range of infections, diseases, and even cancers.
Tobacco smoke makes a solid substance known as tar. The tar from cigarette smoke is known for being full of carcinogens, and it can stain the tissue within the smoker’s lungs.
Along with the other toxins in the tobacco smoke, the tar can damage antibodies, thus negatively affecting the body’s immune system.
There are various oxidizing agents found in tobacco smoke such as perchloric acid, hydrogen peroxide, benzene, formaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide.
These chemicals are highly reactive, and they can cause massive damage to a smoker’s blood vessels and even their heart. They can also lead to an increase in cholesterol levels and clog arteries. This can lead to heart disease and even strokes.
Long term smoking can lead to a build up of carbon monoxide in the bloodstream, which replaces the oxygen in the blood. This is tremendously dangerous and can be fatal.
Once oxygen levels in the blood are compromised, less oxygen can get to the body’s vital organs. This also compromises the body’s ability to fight off diseases and infections.
Radioactive Compounds And Metals
Some of the compounds found in tobacco products are also radioactive. Tobacco smoke contains particles of heavy metals such as arsenic, nickel, lead, and cobalt.
Once these compounds enter the lungs, they can greatly increase the likelihood of contracting a lung infection.
Tobacco Use And Autoimmune Disease
The wealth of dangerous chemicals found in tobacco smoke can function as a pathogen for various autoimmune diseases. They can engage the development of antibodies, studies have shown.
Thus, smokers are far more likely to develop autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.
Smoking tobacco products can significantly compromise the body’s immune system and therefore have a greater knock on effect on a smoker’s overall health.