YOU Docs: Tobacco and Athletic Performance

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Forget what you've seen or heard about cool athletes using cigarettes. The truth is that great athletes do not use tobacco—their bodies simply cannot handle it! Long-term tobacco use degrades peak performance and increases risk for heart disease and cancer. Top athletes won't even touch cigarettes, chewing tobacco or cigars for fear of how it will harm their bodies.

People tend to forget about chewing tobacco and snuff, but they are just as addictive and dangerous to your health as cigarettes. The nicotine in tobacco causes the addiction, while the hydrocarbons you inhale are potentially deadly, causing more than a dozen different forms of cancer, as well as emphysema, a serious respiratory ailment.

Nicotine is absorbed not just by your lungs, but also through the membranous lining of your gastrointestinal tract, mouth and gums. Smoking just one cigarette delivers 1 to 3 mg of nicotine to your system, and it is quickly absorbed by the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors in your brain. But it's not just the nicotine that's hazardous to your health; you also absorb tar, carbon monoxide, radioactive polonium, benzopyrene and other toxins and hydrocarbons that cause inflammation in your body. Furthermore, chewing tobacco and cigarette use over a long period of time is hazardous to your skin, heart and brain.

Top athletes know that being tobacco-free will enable them to have the best athletic performance possible. You'll have more energy for high performance, and because your lungs are free of deadly chemicals, you'll be able to run faster. Not only that, non-smokers are stronger, more flexible, have less inflammatory joint and back pain and even sleep better.

What steps can you take if you are addicted to tobacco?
The YOU Docs' basic premise is that your body is amazing—and you get to control it. So if you've started smoking, it's not too late. You can even control addiction to tobacco.

First, see if you can quit cold turkey. Stopping abruptly often works for those in the early stages of an addiction, It's more like breaking a bad habit at that point. But once your brain has been hardwired to crave the substance, you may need additional help.

If you try to quit by yourself but cannot, seek help. Start with your doctor and/or your school counselor. Seek information on how to quit. Your parents may also be great resources, unless they are also smokers.

Other helpful hints: find friends who don't smoke. A change of scenery or companions can do wonders for discovering healthier ways to spend your time, energy and money. It can help remove you from environments that can trigger a specific addiction. Your network of peers is a powerful determinant of behavior; it's hard to overestimate the influence that friends can have.

For additional help on overcoming a tobacco addiction, visit for a list of great sites to help you quit.


Michael F. Roizen, MD, is Professor of Internal Medicine and Anesthesiology, Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. He has co-founded 12 companies, including the popular websites and

Mehmet C. Oz, MD, is Vice-Chair and Professor of Surgery at Columbia University and director of the Cardiovascular Institute and Complementary Medicine Program at New York Presbyterian Hospital. His TV show—The Dr. Oz Show— recently won its third Emmy, with Dr. Oz his second as the best daytime talk show host.

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