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What are the Health Effects of Smoking Cigarettes?


Updated June 30, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

What are the Health Effects of Smoking Cigarettes?
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The health effects of smoking cigarettes are horribly destructive and in many cases, deadly. Approximately 7000 chemicals, have been identified in cigarettes and cigarette smoke to date, 250 of which are poisonous and 70, carcinogenic. Science is far from finished in its exploration of the composition of manufactured tobacco products, and the chemical count is still increasing.

The ingredients and additives in cigarettes affect everything from the internal functioning of organs to the efficiency of the body's immune system.

The health effects of cigarette smoking are destructive and widespread. Let's take a closer look at the details about how smoking affects the human body.

Toxic Ingredients in Cigarette Smoke

The chemicals in cigarette smoke are inhaled into the lungs and from there travel throughout the body, causing damage in numerous ways.

  • Nicotine reaches the brain in 7 to 10 seconds after smoke is inhaled. Nicotine has been found in every part of a smoker's body, including breast milk.
  • Carbon monoxide, which is present in cigarette smoke, binds to hemoglobin in red blood cells, preventing these cells from carrying all of the oxygen they normally would. This can lead to symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Cancer-causing agents (carcinogens) in tobacco smoke damage important genes that control the growth of cells, causing them to grow abnormally or to reproduce too rapidly. Seventy such cancer-causing chemicals have been identified in cigarette smoke to date.
  • Smoking affects how the immune system functions by causing oxidative stress. This in turn causes DNA mutation, setting the stage for cancer and heart disease. Oxidative stress is also thought to be a contributor to the aging process. Antioxidants are nature's way of combating the damage oxidative stress causes to the body's cells. Smokers have less antioxidants in their blood than nonsmokers.
  • Smoking is associated with higher levels of chronic inflammation, another damaging process that may result in oxidative stress.
Read more about the hazardous chemicals present in tobacco smoke: Increased Health Risks Associated with Smoking

Smokers face a substantial increase in risk for a number of diseases over those who don't smoke:

  • Coronary Heart Disease: 2 to 4 times
  • Stroke: 2 to 4 times
  • Lung cancer risk for men: 23 times
  • Lung cancer risk for women: 13 times
  • COPD-related death: 12 to 13 times
Cigarette Smoking and Death
  • In the United States, cigarette smoking accounts for approximately 440,000 deaths a year. Globally, 5 million souls are lost to tobacco use annually, and if current trends continue, that number is expected to increase to 8 million by the year 2030.
  • If no one smoked, cancer deaths in the U.S. would decrease by one-third.
  • Lung cancer is largely a smoker's disease; 90% of men and 80% of women who succumb to lung cancer smoked.
  • COPD-related deaths are also primarily caused by smoking, with 90% of these deaths traced back to cigarettes.
  • Tobacco use is responsible for more deaths each year in the U.S. than all of the following combined:
  • HIV
  • Murder
  • Suicide
  • Motor vehicle injuries
  • Alcohol use
  • Illegal drug use
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable death in the world today. Were it not for the addiction to nicotine, no one would willingly inhale any of these toxins into their body and put their health at such great risk.

If you are still smoking, please look through the resources below. They will provide not only a map of how to put smoking behind you for good, they will inspire you to get started now.

Don't offer another minute of your life to this addiction that leads only to debilitating disease and death.

Quit smoking now.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/health_effects/effects_cig_smoking/. Accessed August 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking and Tobacco Use - Fast Facts. http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fast_facts/#toll. Accessed August 2013.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Frequently Asked Questions about Polonium 210. http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/fallon/polonium_factsheet.pdf. Accessed August 2013.

National Institutes of Health. Lead-210 in Tobacco and Cigarette Smoke. http://www.cdc.gov/nceh/radiation/fallon/polonium_factsheet.pdf. Accessed August 2013.

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How to Effectively Quit Smoking

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