It all starts in the brain
Nicotine reaches the brain within 10 seconds of inhaling smoke from a cigarette.
The nicotine attaches itself onto the brain’s working cells called neurons. These cells send messages to a different part of the brain to release chemicals (dopamine and adrenaline) that make the smoker feel more relaxed.
When the nicotine levels start to drop, the smoker starts to feel like they need another cigarette. These feelings are called cravings, and the stronger the cravings get, the more stressed the person feels.
When the person finally has another cigarette, the whole process starts again.
The more a person smokes, the more they think they need cigarettes and it becomes harder and harder to quit. This feeling is called addiction.
Meanwhile, in the heart …
It’s less than a minute since the person inhaled smoke from their cigarette and yet nicotine has already reached the brain and told it to start releasing adrenaline. Adrenaline makes the heart beat faster and work harder.
Meanwhile, the person’s blood is now flooded with a gas called carbon monoxide. This means that the blood can’t carry as much oxygen as it usually does. Oxygen is needed by every part of the human body and especially by the heart itself.
The heart starts to beat faster and work harder to try and pump enough oxygen around the body. It’s now ten minutes since the first smoke was inhaled and by now the heart is working 30% harder than normal.
To make life even tougher for the heart, the more cigarettes a person smokes, the more fatty deposits build up inside the vessels that carry blood around the body. If a vessel gets completely blocked off, blood cannot flow properly and the person can have a heart attack.
That’s all happening on the inside, but what about the outside?
How to spot a smoker
The first thing you’ll notice is the smell. Tobacco smoke has a strong smell that clings to everything. A smoker’s breath, skin, clothes and hair smell of smoke long after the cigarette has been stubbed out.
Cigarettes contain a substance called tar. This is a sticky mix of brown chemicals that leaves yellow stains on smokers’ fingers where they have held the cigarette and on their teeth. It’s really difficult wash off.
Smoke also dries out the skin around the person’s mouth and eyes. Smoking can make someone appear much older than they really are – up to 20 years older!