You already know that smoking causes cancer. But can one puff do any damage?

Smoking causes four out of five cases of lung cancer, and it has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers. Smoking also increases the risk of getting up to 13 other types of cancer. So will one puff of a cigarette increase your risk for cancer?

Yes, says “How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease,” a 704-page report from the U.S. Surgeon General’s office. Because tobacco has thousands of addictive chemicals that cause cancer, even a whiff of tobacco can adversely affect the body, the report found.

Following is a timeline about how this deadly habit affects your body.

Immediately

  • The lining of your nose and esophagus becomes red and irritated from the chemicals and smoke. You may start to cough.
  • The good bacteria in your mouth die, leading to dry mouth and bad breath.
  • The back of your mouth begins to itch.
  • The heat and tar from your cigarette can discolor your teeth, gums and lips. Over time, wrinkles and age spots appear. Quitting protects your skin from premature aging.
  • Puckering to take a drag causes fine lines to form around your lips — a dead giveaway that you smoke because these don’t normally appear on non-smokers.

20 minutes

  • Nicotine enters your bloodstream, increasing your pulse and blood pressure.
  • Your sense of smell is reduced.
  • Because nicotine is a stimulant, your brain will release feel-good chemicals or make you want to eat. When you don’t satisfy the urge, you will feel anxious and irritable.

Eight to 48 hours

  • The nicotine and carbon monoxide finally begin to leave your system — but only if you haven’t smoked since your first puff.
  • Your excess mucus created to coat and protect your lungs will begin to drain.
  • Nicotine not only is addictive, but it also impedes your senses of smell and taste. It takes two days for your body to flush the nicotine out and for your senses to return to normal.
  • Hearing loss is a little-known side effect of smoking. When you smoke, the oxygen in your inner ear is depleted.
  • Smoking makes it harder for your blood to circulate, so exercising and other physical activity can leave you winded.

If you are a non-smoker, don’t start. If you smoke regularly or just occasionally, find out if you should get screened for lung cancer.

“It is in any individual’s absolute best interest to never smoke or at least quit smoking if they are current smokers,” said Anthony Kim, MD, professor of clinical surgery at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and division chief of thoracic surgery at Keck Medicine of USC. “There are hundreds of thousands of people who are literally dying from smoking-related diseases and wish that they had the option again to have never started.”

By Heidi Tyline King

As one of the eight original National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer centers in the United States, USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center at Keck Medicine of USC is one of the preeminent academic medical institutions in the country. If you are in the Los Angeles area, get screened for lung cancer by calling (800) USC-CARE (800-872-2273) or visit https://cancer.keckmedicine.org/request-an-appointment/.