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What's in tobacco


  • The effects of cigarette smoking cause about 440,000 deaths (one of every five) each year in the U.S.
  • In 2000-2004, cigarette smoking cost more than $193 billion (in lost productivity and health care costs).
  • On average, adults who smoke die 10 years earlier than nonsmokers.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals. At least 69 can cause cancer. If you smoke, every time you puff on a cigarette, cigar or pipe, you breathe in:

  • benzene (fuel additive)
  • formaldehyde (embalming fluid)
  • cyanide and arsenic (poisons)
  • methanol (wood alcohol)
  • acetylene (fuel)
  • ammonia (cleaning fluid)
  • acetone (nail polish remover)
  • carbon monoxide (poisonous gas)

Why tobacco is addictive

Tobacco is addictive because of nicotine, a drug that affects the central nervous system.

When you smoke, nicotine enters your bloodstream and travels to your brain in 10 seconds. You get a “kick” because your brain releases chemicals that cause pleasure.

The effects last only a few minutes, leading to a sense of depression. This leads to the need for more nicotine.

According to the National Institutes of Health, a person who smokes 30 cigarettes a day gets 300 “hits” of nicotine to the brain.

What tobacco does to your body

Smokeless tobacco

Smokeless tobacco products (snuff and chewing tobacco) are not safe. They contain many toxins and high levels of nicotine.

Cigarette smoking has been linked to most cases of all lung cancer cases, and one-third of all cancers. Smoking:

  • causes heart disease and stroke
  • increases your heart rate, blood pressure and the workload of your heart
  • causes lung diseases (such as bronchitis, emphysema and cancer)
  • causes most cancers of the mouth, larynx, esophagus and bladder
  • adds to the risk of cancer of the stomach, pancreas, cervix and kidney
  • makes asthma symptoms worse
  • causes heartburn and peptic ulcers
  • increases the risk of osteoporosis (brittle bones)
  • can delay healing from surgery
  • dries the skin and causes yellow teeth, bad breath and wrinkles.

What secondhand smoke does to your body

Thirdhand smoke

Thirdhand smoke is the chemicals left behind after secondhand smoke.

It is what you smell on your clothes, hair, furniture or in the car. Thirdhand smoke is also the brown film on the walls.

Secondhand smoke is a mixture of smoke coming from the burning tips of cigarettes, pipes and cigars and smoke exhaled by smokers.

Anyone around secondhand smoke breathes in the chemicals from the tobacco smoke. Secondhand smoke causes death and disease in people who do not smoke.

Secondhand smoke is a known cause of cancer.

    Secondhand smoke can cause health problems for adults who do not smoke. Each year, secondhand smoke causes:
    • about 3,000 deaths from lung cancer
    • about 35,000 to 62,000 deaths from heart disease
  • Breathing secondhand smoke can:
    • irritate and damage the lining of the airways
    • trigger symptoms such as cough, phlegm, wheezing and breathlessness.

According to the U.S. Surgeon General, the only way to protect your family from secondhand smoke is to live in a smoke-free environment.

What quitting smoking does to your body

Did you know?

In one year of quitting smoking, your risk of heart disease is reduced by more than half. Quitting also reduces the risk of a second heart attack if you've already had one.

Source: National Institutes of Health

If you smoke, your goal is to quit. The benefits of quitting happen right away and last for many years.

  • 8 hours: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. The oxygen level in your blood increases to normal.
  • 24 hours: Your chance of a heart attack decreases.
  • 48 hours: Nerve endings start to grow again. Your senses of smell and taste improve.
  • 2 weeks: Circulation to your hands and feet improve. Your ability to exercise is increased. Your lung function increases up to 30 percent.
  • 1 - 9 months: Your cough, stuffy nose, and shortness of breath decrease. Your energy level increases.
  • 1 year: Your chance of heart disease is cut in half.
  • 5 years: Your chance of a stroke is the same as a nonsmoker. Your chance of dying from lung cancer is cut in half.
  • 5 - 10 years: Normal cells replace pre-cancerous cells.
  • 10 years: Your risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease is the same as a nonsmoker's risk.

Other benefits of quitting smoking

  • You have fewer colds and sinus infections.
  • You have fewer attacks of pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma.
  • You are at a lower risk for getting an ulcer.
  • You are less likely to develop cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas.
  • Your body heals faster after surgery.
  • Your HDL (good cholesterol) level increases.
  • Your energy increases.
  • Your sense of taste and smell improves.
  • Your side and night vision improves.
  • You have lower car, life and homeowner insurance rates.
  • You will be free from the control of the smoking habit.
  • You have more spending money!



Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Heart Failure, third edition, ISBN 1-931876-20-7

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 07/19/2008

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts