Whether you're a pack-a-day smoker or a person who picks up an occasional cigarette at a backyard party, here's your motivation to stop.
As you can see in the Vine of artificially replicated healthy lungs and smoker's lungs, one of the lungs — shaded a healthy pink — expands normally. The other one — the color of asphalt — barely gets a breath in. It's painful to watch, but nowhere near as painful as trying to use that purpley, beaten up mess to actually inhale.
Fortunately, these lungs aren't yours. And if you already smoke, you can reverse a lot of the damage you've already caused by quitting.
Here's why the smoker's lung looks like death: For one thing, it is death. But before it actually kills you, smoking causes various physical changes in the lungs, from irritating their lining and pushing them into mucus hyperdrive to freezing the hair-like structures that protect your insides from dust and dirt.
As a result of these changes, even occasional smokers are more likely to suffer from chronic bronchitis, in which the airways channeling fresh oxygen to the lungs become so inflamed they restrict breathing. Smokers are also at a far higher risk of developing asthma.
Over time, the damage to the lungs becomes irreversible. In long-term smokers, the normally elastic lining inside the clusters of air sacs that transport oxygen to the blood burst, leaving a single, gaping hole where dozens of sacs used to be. Breathing can become so difficult it leads to feelings of lightheadedness, dizziness and confusion.
Here's what happens when you quit: One year after you quit smoking, your risk for a heart attack plummets. Within two to five years, risk of a stroke falls to about the same as that of a non-smoker. In five years' time, your risk of developing cancer of the mouth, throat and bladder are slashed in half. Ten years after quitting, your risk for lung cancer drops by half.
So put down that cigarette. And if you've never tried it, don't start.