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Tobacco use

Tobacco use is the most preventable cause of death in the U.S. Cigarette smokers are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than nonsmokers, and 10 times as likely to develop PAD.

People who smoke are at an increased risk for heart attack, stroke and circulatory problems, as well as cancer, lung disorders and reproductive health issues.

What's in tobacco

Tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars and pipes) contain about 4,000 chemicals — more than 60 of which are known to cause cancer in humans. Every time you inhale a cigarette, cigar or pipe, you inhale chemicals such as:

Warning

  • The effects of cigarette smoking cause about 438,000 deaths (1 of every 5) each year in the U.S.
  • Tobacco use causes more deaths each year than all deaths from HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicides and murders combined.
  • Cigarette smoking kills an estimated 259,500 men and 178,000 women in the U.S. each year.
  • On average, adults who smoke die 14 years earlier than nonsmokers.
  • Smoking during pregnancy increases the chances a baby: will be born too early; have a low birth weight; die by sudden infant death syndrome.
  • Each pack of cigarettes sold in the U.S. costs about $7.18 in medical care costs and lost work productivity.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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

Why tobacco is addictive

People become addicted to tobacco because of nicotine, a drug that affects the central nervous system.

Cigarette smoking is the most common form of nicotine addiction in the U.S. Nicotine is both a stimulant (having effects like caffeine) and depressant (having effects like alcohol).

During smoking, nicotine is absorbed into the bloodstream and travels to the brain in 10 seconds. The smoker gets a "kick" because the brain releases chemicals that cause pleasure. The effects of the nicotine 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 will take 10 puffs on a cigarette during a 5-minute period. A person who smokes 30 cigarettes a day gets 300 "hits" of nicotine to the brain.

The addiction to nicotine is what makes quitting difficult (but not impossible).

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 about 90 percent 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 work load 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 lead to reproductive health issues
  • can increase the risk for gum disease
  • can delay healing from surgery
  • dries the skin and causes yellow teeth, bad breath and wrinkles.

What secondhand smoke does to the body

Did you know?

An estimated 45.1 million (20.9 percent) of all adults smoke cigarettes in the U.S. Smoking is more common among men than women.

Secondhand smoke causes an estimated 22,700 to 69,600 deaths from heart disease each year in the U.S. among nonsmokers.

On average, children are exposed to more secondhand smoke than nonsmoking adults.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services

In 1 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

Secondhand smoke contains smaller amounts of the same chemicals in cigarettes. Secondhand smoke is a mix of smoke exhaled by smokers and smoke coming from the tips of cigarettes and other tobacco products.

Secondhand smoke contains more than 250 chemicals known to be toxic or cause cancer. It has been listed as a known cause of cancer. According to the U.S. Surgeon General, secondhand smoke in the United States:

  • causes about 35,000 to 62,000 heart disease deaths a year in adults who don't smoke
  • causes about 3,000 lung cancer deaths a year in adults who don't smoke
  • increases the risks for heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults who don't smoke
  • worsens symptoms of adults (and children) who already suffer from asthma, allergies or bronchitis
  • causes between 150,000 to 300,000 cases of bronchitis and pneumonia each year among infants and children younger than 18 months old
  • causes between 1,900 and 2,700 sudden infant death syndrome deaths.

What quitting smoking does to your body

If you smoke, your goal is to quit smoking. The benefits of quitting happen right away and continue many years later:

  • 8 hours: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal and 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: Pre-cancerous cells are replaced with normal cells.
  • 10 years: Your risk of cancer, stroke, and heart disease is the same as a nonsmoker's risk.

Quitting may be difficult, but it isn't impossible. To get help quitting, talk with a member of your health care team.


 

 

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Helping Your Heart, fourth edition, cvs-ahc-90648

First published: 10/04/2002
Last updated: 06/01/2007

Reviewed by: Allina Health's Patient Education Department experts