Health Risks of Smoking Tobacco

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tobacco use causes over 400,000 deaths a year, more than all deaths due to HIV/AIDS, murders, suicides, motor vehicle accidents, illegal drug use and alcohol use put together in the U.S. Worldwide, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that tobacco use is responsible for nearly 5 million deaths a year, one every seven seconds. According to the WHO, there are 4,000 toxic substances in tobacco smoke, of which about 25 are known to cause cancer. The Surgeon General of the U.S. concludes in his report that there is no safe level of exposure to cigarette smoke, indicating dangers to the primary smoker and anybody inhaling secondhand smoke.


According to the American Cancer Society, tobacco smoking accounts for 30 percent of cancer deaths in the U.S. It also accounts for 87 percent of lung cancers in the U.S., which happens to be the number one cancer killer in both men and women and ironically, the most preventable. According to the CDC, the risk of developing lung cancer is 23 times greater in tobacco-smoking men and 13 times greater in tobacco-smoking women than in non smokers. Other cancers linked to tobacco include cancers of the mouth, lips, nose, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, uterus, cervix and acute myeloid leukemia.

Cardiovascular Risks

The American Heart association estimates that about 150,000 smokers die from diseases of the heart and blood vessels in the U.S. each year. A further 46,000 others are killed from heart disease due to inhaling secondhand smoke. Women who smoke have heart attacks about 14 years earlier than their non-smoking counterparts. Smokers also double their chances of developing a stroke. According to the American Heart Association, chemicals in tobacco smoke damage arteries throughout the body, increasing the likelihood of clot formation that causes heart attack and stroke. Tobacco smoke also reduces “good” cholesterol, speeds up the heart and replaces oxygen in the blood with carbon monoxide. Smoking also causes abdominal aortic aneurysms.

Respiratory Problems

Apart from the cancers affecting the respiratory system–the lungs, throat, nose and sinuses–the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery states that tobacco causes chronic rhinitis and sinusitis, chronic cough, gum disease and pre-cancerous lesions of the mouth and throat in smokers and those exposed to secondhand smoke. In children, there is increased incidence of middle ear infections (with hearing loss and delayed language development), chronic sinusitis and rhinitis. Other respiratory illnesses associated with tobacco smoke include bronchitis, chronic airway obstruction and emphysema.

Pregnancy Concerns

Tobacco adversely affects both mother and baby in pregnancy. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, tobacco smoking increases the risks of ectopic pregnancy, vaginal bleeding, stillbirth, problems with placental location, premature and low birth weight babies. Newborns of smokers are more at risk of dying from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and later development of asthma.

Other Risks

In women, smokers are more at risk for infertility and lower bone density and development of osteoporosis in later years than non-smokers, according to the CDC. Thus, women who smoke are at a higher risk for hip fractures than non-smokers. The Surgeon General’s report on smoking concludes that smoking harms every major organ in the body, causing many diseases and reducing the health of smokers in general.

About this Author

IkechiK is an international medical graduate with U.S credentials and over 15 years of general medical practice experience in diverse cultural backgrounds. He has been delivering health education talks and writing health related content during that period for diverse audiences, from small group periodicals to informational websites. Based in Alexandria, IkechiK is pursuing further studies in Preventive Medicine.