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Original Date of Publication: 15 Jul 2006
Reviewed by: Karen Larson, M.D.,Stanley J. Swierzewski, III, M.D.
Last Reviewed: 15 Jul 2006

Original Source:

Home » Smoking » Overview

Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking

Tobacco has a negative effect on almost every organ of the body. According to the Surgeon General, tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, resulting in about 400,000 deaths each year.

Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS)—or secondhand smoke—results in approximately 3000 lung cancer deaths per year in non-smokers. Secondhand smoke is what is given off by the end of the burning cigarette and by the smoker's exhalations.

Cigar smokers and smokeless tobacco (chew or spit tobacco) users have similar health risks as cigarette smokers.

Short-term effects of smoking include more frequent respiratory illnesses such as coughs, colds, bronchitis, and pneumonia. Among children and adolescents exposed to secondhand smoke, rates of asthma, ear infection, and lower respiratory infections are higher.

The long-term effects of smoking are extensive. There are numerous diseases linked to smoking. Smoking can cause cancer of the mouth, throat, lungs, stomach, kidneys, bladder, cervix, and pancreas. About one third of all cancers are linked to tobacco use—and 90% of lung cancer cases are linked to smoking.

Smoking also causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, (e.g., emphysema, chronic bronchitis), which is severe lung damage. Smoking reduces blood circulation and narrows blood vessels, depriving the body of oxygen and increasing the risk for heart disease. Non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke are 25% more likely to develop heart disease. Smoking also doubles the risk for stroke and increases the risk for developing cataracts.

Smoking poses additional health risks for women. It increases the risk for rheumatoid arthritis and leads to loss of bone density—osteoporosis—thus increasing the chances of hip and spine fractures in postmenopausal women.

Women of childbearing age who smoke face higher rates of infertility and greater risks for complications during pregnancy. Smoking during pregnancy also increases the unborn baby's health risks (e.g., premature birth, respiratory illnesses, low birth weight). After birth, the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) doubles for babies exposed to secondhand smoke.

Children and teens are especially vulnerable to the hazards of smoking. Because their bodies are not fully mature, smoking interferes with normal lung development in those who begin smoking as children or adolescents. Young people who smoke may become even more strongly addicted to cigarettes and face a greater risk for developing lung cancer than those who start smoking later in life.

Teens who smoke are also more likely to have depression or other psychological problems. They are also more likely to engage in other dangerous behaviors (e.g., using alcohol and other drugs).

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