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The Health Risks of Smoking

How Smoking Harms Us: From Head to Toe


Updated June 12, 2014

An elderly man holds a cigarette
Patricia Marroquin/Moment Open/Getty Images

Do you have any idea which smoking-related disease is the number one cause of death among smokers? If you're thinking it's lung cancer or COPD/emphysema, you're wrong. While both of these smoking-related diseases do claim a lot of lives, it is heart disease that that holds the top slot in the list of diseases that kill smokers.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States today, and the leading cause of death among smokers. And, on a global level, researchers report that there were 1,690,000 premature deaths from cardiovascular disease among smokers in the year 2000. In contrast, there were approximately 850,000 lung cancer deaths during the same year, and 118,000 COPD deaths from smoking in 2001, worldwide.

Smoking is hard on the heart, but the fact is, tobacco use plays a role in a multitude of diseases that ultimately lead to disability and/or death. Cigarette smoke contains over 4,000 chemical compounds; 200 of which are known to be poisonous, and upwards of 60 have been identified as carcinogens. Viewed in that light, it's no wonder that the effects of smoking are so widespread and destructive.

Let's take a look at how cigarette smoke affects our bodies, from head to toe. You may be surprised at some of the ways smoking has a negative impact on our health.


  • Smell and staining
Brain and Mental Effects: Eyes: Nose:
  • Less sense of smell
Thyroid Skin: Teeth: Mouth and Throat: Hands: Respiration and Lungs: Heart: Liver: Abdomen: Kidneys and bladder: Bones: Spine: Male reproduction: Female reproduction: Blood: Legs and Feet: Immune System: The effects of smoking hold additional risks for women. Those who smoke throughout their pregnancies increase the risk of: Risks to the fetus include: As long as this list of diseases known to be associated with smoking is, it is incomplete. We don't yet fully understand all of the dangers that cigarette smoke presents, but research continues, bringing us new discoveries seemingly by the day.

One thing is certain: Cigarettes snuff out life at an alarming rate. Statistics tell us that upwards of half of long-term smokers will die a smoking-related death. And globally, that presently translates to nearly 5 million deaths a year. Put another way, someone loses their life to smoking every 8 seconds somewhere in the world.

If you currently smoke, use this information to help you see your smoking habit for what it is - a deadly addiction that you can live without. The tools here at About.com Smoking Cessation are designed to help you learn what nicotine addiction involves and what it takes to quit smoking.

Also, stop in and visit our support forum here at About.com Smoking Cessation. This very active community of people quitting tobacco has new members joining daily, and the support is some of the best I've seen anywhere online, or in real life, for that matter. Browse through and read messages as a guest, or register (free) to post comments of your own.

As humans, we are incredibly resilient. While not all smoking damage is reversible, so much can be healed, even after years of smoking.

Don't ever think it's too late for you to quit smoking, and please...don't waste any more of your life on cigarettes. Smoking offers you absolutely nothing of value.

Take back your life. You deserve the freedom and long-lasting benefits that smoking cessation brings.


The Tobacco Atlas: Health Risks. 2008. World Health Organization.

WHO/WPRO - Smoking Statistics. 28 May, 2002. World Health Organization.


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