Tobacco is responsible for 8 million deaths each year. This is more relevant during the COVID 19 pandemic, as smokers are at risk of developing a serious COVID-related illness.
Tobacco negatively affects our bodies and harms our digestive system in a number of ways.
Smoking increases your risk of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), stomach ulcers, damage to the pancreas and liver, Crohn’s disease, and gallstones. Smoking increases the risk of various cancers of the digestive system, such as cancer of the esophagus, stomach, pancreas and colon.
Tobacco and gastroesophageal reflux disease
Smoking leads to a decrease in the pressure of the lower esophageal sphincter. This leads to an increase in the reflux of stomach contents into the esophagus, contributing to heartburn and GERD. The consequences of these repeated and prolonged episodes of reflux can damage the inner lining of the esophagus and increase the risk of esophageal cancer.
Tobacco and stomach ulcer
Smoking stimulates gastric acid secretion and weakens defense mechanisms such as reduced blood flow, mucus and bicarbonate production. Smokers are also more likely to develop Helicobacter Pylori infection, which in itself is a cause of an ulcer. A combination of these factors increases the risk of peptic ulcer disease in smokers.
Tobacco and liver
Smoking impairs the liver’s ability to perform important bodily functions, such as the formation of proteins and bile and the processing of toxic metabolites. Smoking-induced alcohol-related harm exacerbates conditions such as primary biliary cirrhosis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.
Tobacco and Crohn’s disease
Smoking increases the risk of developing Crohn’s disease. This is a chronic inflammatory bowel disease that primarily affects the small intestine, but it can affect any part of the gastrointestinal tract. This disease impairs quality of life and can lead to potentially life-threatening complications such as intestinal obstruction and fistulas. The speculated mechanisms for an increased risk of Crohn’s disease in smokers are still not fully understood.
Tobacco and pancreatitis
Smoking is an independent risk factor for the development of acute pancreatitis and also exacerbates alcohol-related pancreatic damage. Pancreatitis is a potentially life-threatening inflammation of the pancreas, which can lead to pancreatic autodigestion by activated pancreatic enzymes.
Tobacco and gallstones
Smoking is also now associated with an increased risk of developing gallstones, but more research is needed to fully understand this relationship.
Tobacco and gastrointestinal cancers
Smoking increases the risk of developing various gastrointestinal cancers such as cancer of the esophagus, stomach, pancreas, colon, rectum and anal canal.
Impact of smoking cessation on the digestive system
The effect of quitting smoking is variable. The effects seen in stomach and liver are reversed
a short span of time. Smokers who quit are likely to have milder symptoms and a lower chance of Crohn’s disease recurrence. However, the risk of developing pancreatitis remains elevated even after smoking cessation.
This year’s theme is World No Tobacco Day “Commit to Stop”Anyone and everyone who uses tobacco, in any form, must pledge to stop and remove this menace from the face of the earth.
Dr. Abishek Mitra | Senior Consultant – GI and HPB Surgery, Oncosurgery & Minimal Access Surgery | Dshilaharam Narayana Super Specialty Hospital, New Delhi