The Hazards of Cigarette Smoking

Smoking is a big risk factor for COPD.
Smoking is a big risk factor for COPD. Johannes Simon/Getty Images

It is a well-known fact that cigarette smoking is hazardous to human health. Smokers have an increased risk of nearly every type of cancer, and yet 14% of people in the United States smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Even people who don't smoke, as well as the unborn babies of pregnant women who do smoke, are at risk of the ill effects of cigarettes.

Stats and Facts

If you smoke and are unaware of how dangerous the habit is or feel you'd like to quit but need more incentive, there is plenty of information regarding the risks of smoking that may help.

According to the American Lung Association:

  • Cigarette smoking is the most common source of illness and/or premature death worldwide.
  • Each year, 450,000 Americans lose their lives to smoking-related illnesses. This represents one in five deaths, making it the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S.
  • Cigarettes contain more than 7,000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer.
  • Smoking is responsible for 90% of cancer deaths and more than 80% of deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
  • Among people who smoke, chronic lung disease accounts for 73% of all smoking-related illnesses. In former smokers, chronic lung disease accounts for 50% of all smoking-related conditions.

According to the CDC:

  • On average smokers die ten years earlier than non-smokers.
  • Approximately 16 million Americans have at least one smoking-related illness.
  • For every death in the U.S., there are 30 other people with at least one serious health condition linked to smoking.
  • Smoking is associated with erectile dysfunction in men.

According to the American Cancer Society, smoking during pregnancy can be dangerous for unborn babies, leading to increased risk of preterm birth, low birth weight, and SIDS.

According to the CDC:

  • Parents who smoke can create health problems for their children, including exacerbation of asthma, increased frequency of colds and/or ear infections, and ​sudden infant death syndrome.
  • Every year, secondhand smoke is responsible for 7,300 lung cancer deaths and 34,000 heart disease deaths in the United States alone.
  • Parental smoking leads to more than 200,000 asthma episodes and 709,000 visits for ear infections.

Tobacco advertising plays a significant role in addiction as it encourages young people to begin a lifelong relationship with cigarettes before they are even old enough to understand the impact that smoking has on their health.

As of Dec. 20, 2019, the new legal minimum age is 21 years old for purchasing cigarettes, cigars, or any other tobacco products in the U.S.

A Word From Verywell

The most effective way to prevent smoking-related illness and death is simply to quit. And while kicking the habit may seem easier said than done, it's worth whatever degree of effort necessary. Consider these benefits: The risk of heart disease decreases significantly after just one year of stopping smoking. Within two years the risk of stroke may be as low a non-smoker’s. The risks of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder decrease by 50% within five years and the risk of lung cancer decreases by half in 10 years.

If you're trying to quit smoking and are not sure how to go about it or if stopping cold turkey or trying to wean yourself off cigarettes hasn't worked for you, talk to your doctor. There are medications that can help you snuff out your last cigarette and regain your health.

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Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Current Cigarette Smoking Among Adults in the United States. Updated November 18, 2019.

  2. American Lung Association. Smoking Facts. Updated August 14, 2019.

  3. American Lung Association. Health Effects of Smoking. Updated August 7, 2019.

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking & Tobacco Use Fast Facts. Updated November 15, 2019.

  5. American Cancer Society. Health Risks of Smoking Tobacco. Updated November 15, 2018.

  6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Secondhand Smoke (SHS) Facts. Updated January 17, 2018.

  7. American Cancer Society. Benefits of Quitting Smoking Over Time. Updated November 1, 2018.

  8. U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Want to Quit Smoking? FDA-Approved Products Can Help. Updated December 12, 2017.