Calendar with a burnt cigarette pinned to a day that says Time to Quit.

Health Effects of Smoking

Cigarette smoke harms nearly every organ in your body and causes many diseases. Half of all smokers who continue to smoke will die from a smoking-related illness.

Leading Cause of Death
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. In fact, smoking is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 deaths (480,000) each year and more than 16 million people suffer from smoking-related illnesses in the U.S. alone. 

Increased Health Risks
According to the CDC, smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop heart disease and stroke, and it is estimated to increase the risk of developing lung cancer in men by 25 times and in women by 25.7 times.

Cardiovascular Disease
Smokers are at a much greater risk for diseases that affect the heart and blood vessels and are twice as likely to die from heart attacks as non-smokers. Even occasional smokers of fewer than 5 cigarettes a day can have early signs of cardiovascular disease. Smoking also affects the blood vessel walls that carry blood to the brain, which can lead to strokes.

Respiratory Disease
Smoking greatly increases the risk of lung diseases like emphysema and chronic bronchitis by damaging a smoker's airways. These diseases make it difficult to breath and are called Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). COPD causes chronic illness and gets worse over time, often becoming fatal. 

Smoking is responsible for 90 percent of all lung cancer deaths in men and women. And more women will die this year from lung cancer than from breast cancer. Few people realize that smoking is also linked to many other kinds of cancer, including cancers of the mouth, nose, sinuses, lip, throat, esophagus, bladder, liver, kidney, pancreas, ovary, cervix, stomach, colon, and rectum.

Other Health Risks
Pregnancy and Fertility: Smoking can make it harder for women to become pregnant and can affect a baby’s health before and after birth. Smoking increases risks for early delivery, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, ectopic pregnancy, and stillbirth. Smoking can also cause erectile dysfunction in men and damages sperm, making them less likely to fertilize eggs.

Diabetics: Smokers are 30 to 40 percent more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than nonsmokers. Smokers with diabetes are more likely to have trouble with insulin dosing, making it more difficult to control their disease. Additionally, diabetic smokers are at increased risk of developing nerve damage, heart and kidney disease, and eye disease. 

Surgery Risks: Smokers who undergo surgery are more likely than nonsmokers to have complications or die after the procedure. In fact, the risk of death is 40 percent higher smokers. Cardiovascular complications increase 57 percent, heart attack 80 percent, and stroke 73 percent.

Dental: Besides causing bad breath and stained teeth, smoking impacts senses of taste and smell, slows healing after a tooth extraction, and causes gum disease and oral cancers.

Secondhand Smoke
Secondhand smoke is also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) or passive smoke. It’s a mixture of two forms of smoke that comes from burning tobacco:

  • Sidestream smoke: smoke that comes from the end of a lighted cigarette, pipe, or cigar 
  • Mainstream smoke: smoke that is exhaled by a smoker

Secondhand smoke contains the same harmful chemicals that smokers inhale. It is known to cause cancer in non-smokers and is especially harmful to children who are more likely to have lung and ear infections, cough, wheeze, and have shortness of breath. It can cause asthma attacks and even premature death. 

Secondhand smoke can also harm your pets. Your pets don't just inhale smoke; the smoke particles are also trapped in their fur and ingested when they groom themselves with their tongues. A study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that dogs in smoking households had a 60 percent greater risk of lung cancer; a different study showed that long-nosed dogs, such as collies or greyhounds, were twice as likely to develop nasal cancer if they lived with smokers.

Another vet study found that cats whose owners smoked were three times as likely to develop lymphoma, the most common feline cancer.

Nicotine & Your Brain

After nicotine enters the bloodstream it attaches to receptors where the neurotransmitter acetylcholine would normally dock. This starts a chain of chemical reactions that influence numerous bodily functions. For instance, it immediately releases adrenaline which stimulates the central nervous system and increases blood pressure, respiration, and heart rate. Dopamine, which affects the brain pathways that control reward and pleasure, is another neurotransmitter that is activated when nicotine reaches the brain.

For many tobacco users, long-term brain changes induced by continued nicotine exposure result in addiction. Addiction is characterized by compulsive drug seeking and abuse, even in the face of negative health consequences. Most smokers realize that tobacco use is harmful and express the desire to reduce or stop smoking. When a smoker tries to quit, he or she experiences withdrawal symptoms including irritability, difficulties sleeping, increased appetite, and strong cravings for tobacco products.

What's in a Cigarette?

There are over 600 ingredients in cigarettes. When burned, they create more than 7,000 chemical and at least 69 of those chemicals are known to cause cancer.

Many of the chemicals found in cigarettes also are found in consumer products. However, these products have warning labels. While the public is warned about the danger of the poisons in these products, there is no such warning for the chemicals in tobacco smoke. A pack-a-day smoker (20 cigarettes every day) will take in about 75,000 doses of these chemicals in one year. Here's a partial list of toxins in tobacco smoke and other places they can be found:


Acetone – found in nail polish remover
Acetic Acid – an ingredient in hair dye
Ammonia – floor/toilet cleaner
Arsenic – used in rat poison
Butane – used in lighter fluid
Cadmium – active component in battery acid
Carbon Monoxide – car exhaust fumes
DDT/Dieldrin – insecticides
Ethanol – alcohol
Formaldehyde – body tissue preservative
Hexamine – barbecue lighter fluid
Hydrogen Cyanide - gas chamber poison
Lead – used in batteries
Methane – swamp gas
Methanol – rocket fuel
Naphthalene – an ingredient in mothballs
Nicotine – used as insecticide
Nitrobenzene - gasoline additive
Nitrous Oxide Phenols – disinfectant
Stearic Acid - candle wax
Tar – material for paving roads
Toluene - used to manufacture paint
Vinyl Chloride - makes PVC2

Cancer Causing Chemicals

Polonium 210
Dibenz Acidine




Most people mistakenly believe that smoking a filtered cigarette is safer than smoking an nonfiltered cigarette. This is false. Health studies show that smoking filtered cigarettes does not keep you from getting sick. Filters do not protect you from bad chemicals and, in some ways, they may be more dangerous than nonfiltered cigarettes.

Filters Are Defective

  • Filtered cigarettes do not block toxic chemicals from entering your body
  • Filtered smoke feels milder on the throat, making it easier to take bigger and more harmful puffs
  • Most cigarette filters are made of the same material as camera film (cellulose acetate)
  • Each individual filter is made of thousands of tiny fibers. During smoking, these fibers can come off into your mouth and be inhaled into your lungs.
  • If you smoke a cigarette with a charcoal filter, not only can you get fibers in your body, you can also get tiny bits of charcoal

What Cigarette Manufacturers Will Not Tell You About Filters:

Tobacco industry documents show that they have known about filter fiber fallout since at least the 1950s. "Carbon particles were released from all cigarettes tested. In some studies, the particles released from cigarette filters were described as: "too numerous to count.""

Memo to Judy Nash from Nancy R. Ryan. February 18, 1982. "Filter particle fallout." Bates No. 1000805035.

Light Cigarettes

Light cigarettes are NOT safer than smoking regular ones. Despite all the marketing hype with lighter colors used in the packaging and official looking statements about tar and nicotine levels, the truth is light and regular cigarettes are virtually identical.

The illusion of a light cigarette comes from nearly invisible vent holes that are drilled in the filter. These vent holes can actually make you inhale smoke deeper into your lungs. Additionally, light cigarettes have more chemical additives than “regular” filtered cigarettes. Cigarette makers often add extra chemicals to hide the harsh feel of the smoke.

Closeup image of the vent holes in the filter

Menthol Cigarettes

All cigarettes are harmful, including menthol cigarettes. Many smokers think menthol cigarettes are less harmful, but there is no evidence that menthol cigarettes are safer than other cigarettes. Menthol is added to cigarettes to make the smoke feel less harsh. But the smoke is still dangerous. While menthol may feel cool on the throat, it is simply hiding the harsh poisons in the smoke. Menthol smokers show significantly higher levels of nicotine addiction compared with non-menthol smokers. This may be attributed to menthol smokers holding smoke longer than normal which allows for increased absorption of nicotine (and chemicals).

Benefits of Quitting

People who quit smoking greatly reduce their risk for disease and early death. Although the health benefits are greater for people at earlier ages, there are benefits at any age so you are never too old to quit.

US Surgeon General Reports identify both immediate and long-term effects of quitting smoking:


  • 20-minutes
    Within 20-minutes after quitting your blood pressure and heart rate will return to normal.
  • 12 Hours
    After 12-hours your blood oxygen level will increase while your carbon monoxide level will decrease to their normal levels.
  • 2 Weeks to 3 Months
    2 weeks to 3 months after quitting your circulation improves and your lung function increases.
  • 1 to 9 Months
    Over the next 1 to 9 months after quitting, coughing and shortness of breath decreases; cilia regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to clean the lungs and reduce the risk of infection.

Long Term 

  • 1 Year
    After a year your risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker.
  • 5 Years
    After 5 years your risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer risk falls to that of a non-smoker. Stroke is that of a non-smoker after 2 to 5 years.
  • 10 Years
    After 10 years your risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking.
  • 15 Years
    After 15 years your risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a non-smoker.

After Cancer Diagnosis
Quitting tobacco use immediately after being diagnosed with cancer gives a person the best chance for their cancer treatment to work effectively. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, their best chance for a cure is their first cancer treatment. If the cancer comes back, the chances of eliminating the cancer completely are reduced. Likewise, using tobacco can decrease the effectiveness of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation therapy. Tobacco can decrease the response to cancer treatment, increase the risk of recurrence, and decrease survival.

Quitting tobacco use after cancer diagnosis will not only increase treatment effectiveness, but will also improve pulmonary function, cardiovascular function, and decrease the risk of developing other non-cancer-related diseases. In addition, people who quit smoking during chemotherapy or radiation therapy greatly decrease their risk of developing a second cancer several years later.