Tobacco use

Tobacco use can delay your body's healing process. Tobacco use:

  • makes your blood vessels become smaller (constrict), which reduces the amount of oxygen-rich blood in your bloodstream
  • causes your blood to clot faster, which can lead to heart and blood flow problems
  • causes your blood pressure and heart rate to rise

It is important to quit using tobacco before surgery.

What is in tobacco

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 wear off quickly leading to the urge to use more nicotine to continue feeling pleasure.

What tobacco does to your body

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


  • The effects of cigarette smoking cause about one of every five deaths each year in the U.S.
  • Cigarette smoking costs more than $28.9 billion in lost productivity and health care costs. Additionally, another $5.6 billion per year is lost due to secondhand smoke exposure.
  • On average, adults who smoke die 10 years earlier than people who do not smoke.
    (Source: Centers for Disease and Control Prevention)

What secondhand smoke does to your body

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

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 7,300 deaths from lung cancer
    • about 34,000 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

The only way to protect your family from secondhand smoke is to live in a smoke-free environment. No amount of secondhand smoke is safe.

Thirdhand smoke

Thirdhand smoke is the chemical residue left from 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. The residue can cling to surfaces for months. The particles are very tiny and can easily get into your lungs when you breathe.

Smokeless tobacco

Smokeless tobacco (snuff, chewing tobacco and tobacco products that dissolve) are not a safe alternative to smoking. Any form of tobacco contains many toxins and high levels of nicotine. On average, smokeless tobacco actually contains more nicotine than cigarettes.

Smokeless tobacco causes:

  • an increased risk of mouth cancers
  • an increased risk of stomach, esophageal, throat or pancreatic cancer

It affects your heart by increasing your heart rate and blood pressure.

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes)

An e-cigarette (ENDS – electronic nicotine delivery system) is a device used in place of smoking tobacco. It is a small tube that is often made to look like a cigarette. They also come in many other varieties.

Nicotine liquid or nicotine-free liquid (often called "juice") is put in the e-cigarette. Each time you take a puff, the liquid moves past a small metal coil. The coil heats up and warms the liquid causing it to come out as steam that looks like cigarette smoke. You breathe the chemical steam in and out, which is usually called "vaping."

The steam you breathe in and out is the vaporized chemicals found in the liquid, along with any chemical changes from the heated metal.

E-cigarettes are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). They are in the process of being regulated by the FDA. They are also not approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The chemicals used in the liquid do not have to be safe. The FDA only requires the chemical names to be listed on the products.

Private and federally-funded testing has found at least 26 chemicals in the liquid, including:

  • lead
  • arsenic
  • formaldehyde
  • glycol

Testing has also found chemicals known to cause cancer in humans.

E-cigarettes are not made to help you quit smoking. They were made to be like smoking cigarettes. All major tobacco companies own and make e-cigarettes.

All Allina Health facilities are tobacco free. E-cigarettes are now regulated as a tobacco product.

What quitting smoking does to your body

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. Your breathing starts to improve.
  • 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. According to the American Lung Association, your lung function may increase up to 30 percent.
  • 1 to 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 someone who does not use tobacco. Your chance of dying from lung cancer is cut in half.
  • 5 to 10 years: Normal cells replace pre-cancerous cells.
  • 10 years: Your risk of cancer, stroke and heart disease is the same as the risk of someone who never used tobacco.

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 good cholesterol (HDL) level increases.
  • Your energy increases.
  • Your sense of taste and smell improve.
  • Your side and night vision improve.
  • 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!

Quitting tobacco use

Quitting may be difficult but it is not impossible. Talk with a member of your health care team to get help quitting.

Preparing to quit

  • Make a pact with yourself to quit.
  • Write down your three most important reasons for quitting on a card. Carry the card with you or post it on your refrigerator, desk or mirror and look at it several times a day.
  • Make your home smoke free to reduce your triggers to smoke. For example, most people do not expect to smoke in a restaurant anymore because they have grown used to it.
  • Visualize yourself as someone who does not use tobacco.
  • Plan your reward for each day you do not smoke. Keep them small, easy and affordable.

Actually quitting

  • Get rid of all cigarettes and chewing tobacco. Throw away your ashtrays and lighters.
  • Do not allow smoking in your home—if other family members want to smoke, ask them to go outside.
  • Avoid "high risk" situations: bars, parties and smoking environments.
  • Think positively. Believe you can quit.
  • Take it one day at a time. Remember: even the most intense craving lasts only five to 10 minutes. Wait it out!

Need help quitting?

Allina Health

  • Tobacco Intervention Program at Abbott Northwestern Hospital:
  • Tobacco Intervention Program at Mercy Hospital:
  • Penny George™ Institute for Health and Healing (LiveWell Center) tobacco intervention coaching:
  • Tobacco Intervention Program at River Falls Area Hospital:
  • *Allina Health United Lung and Sleep Clinic Tobacco Cessation Program:


*There may be a cost to you. Check with your insurance provider.

Related resources

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Knee Replacement, fifth edition, ortho-ah-90140
First Published: 10/01/2000
Last Reviewed: 05/26/2017

Not ready to quit? Consider taking a break

If quitting tobacco seems like too much right now, consider taking a break or a vacation from tobacco use.

This can help you feel better by restoring balance*.

  • Set a goal to stop using tobacco.
  • Talk with your doctor for resources or ways to cope with withdrawal symptoms.

If this goes well, maybe you will take more breaks during the year. This could lead to a tobacco-free life!

*Follow your doctor’s directions for medicine, exercise, diet and other activities.