Smoking is the single most preventable cause of poor health and premature death in Scotland. Around 13,000 deaths in Scotland each year are due to smoking.

What is in a cigarette and why is it so harmful?

Cigarettes contain more than 4,000 chemicals. These include substances such as tar, arsenic, formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, nitrogen oxides and ammonia. The addictive part of a cigarette is nicotine but this isn’t the substance which causes the most health problems. It is the other 4,000 chemicals, along with a gas called carbon monoxide which cause the most harm.

Carbon monoxide (CO) is a colourless, odourless gas which is produced when anything is burned. It is found in cigarette smoke, meaning people who smoke have higher levels of CO in their bloodstream, causing their oxygen levels to reduce. This can leave their tissues and organs oxygen deprived. It also means people’s hearts have to work harder to pump the blood around their bodies. Over time, CO can also make people’s blood become a bit thicker and stickier, increasing your risk of stroke. However, the good news is that CO only takes 24 hours to be removed from your body after stopping smoking!

Other ways of using tobacco can be equally harmful. See below for more information or speak to your local stop smoking advisor for more information and advice on how to stop these too.

  • Cannabis – Cannabis use can lead to dependency problems, mental health issues and lung disease. It is important that you tell your local stop smoking advisor if you use cannabis so they can best support you in your quit attempt and refer you onto a specialist service if required.
  • Paan – Paan does not contain CO but still contains nicotine and other harmful chemicals. It can lead to cancer of the mouth and can still be very addictive.
  • Shisha – Smoking shisha has become a popular way of smoking tobacco but it still releases CO and contains many harmful chemicals. This is even true for tobacco-free herbal shisha.

Ash Scotland and Fast Forward have produced an information leaflet on Shisha which you can access here:

  • E-cigarettes – These are electronic devices that typically contain three main elements: a battery, an atomiser and a cartridge (usually containing nicotine). The liquid in the cartridge is heated so that it evaporates and nicotine is released in a vapour which is inhaled. There is currently no regulation of these products and no long-term evidence to support their use. However, initial studies suggest that they do not contain CO or most of the harmful toxins which cigarettes do. Currently the NHS does not recommend their use however there are plans by the MHRA to regulate these products in the future in order to bring them in line with other nicotine-containing medications.

What are the benefits of stopping smoking?

It is never too late to benefit from stopping smoking and we are here to help you do it.

Immediate benefits of stopping

  • Your breath, clothes and hair won't smell of stale tobacco
  • Your home will be smoke-free
  • Your sense of smell and taste will improve
  • You will save money ( A 20-a-day smoker = £2,500 a year)
  • Better rates of insurance policies
  • You are likely to feel good about yourself

Health benefits of stopping

  • Carbon monoxide will be removed from your body within 24 hours
  • Skin appearance will improve due to better oxygen supply in the blood
  • Coughs, wheezing and breathing problems will improve, with lung function increasing by up to 10% after 3-9 months
  • After one year, the risk of heart attack falls to around half that of a smoker
  • After 10 years, the risk of lung cancer falls to around half that of a smoker
  • After 15 years, the risk of heart attack falls to the same level as someone who has never smoked
  • If you have already had a heart attack, stopping smoking reduces your risk of a fatal heart attack by 25%



Last Reviewed: 09/09/2014