Font Size

Cigarette Smoking

Cigarette Smoking Overview

Cigarette smoking remains a leading contributor to death and illness among Americans. Every year, roughly 440,000 Americans die from illnesses caused by tobacco use, accounting for nearly one-fifth of all deaths. Smoking cigarettes kills more people in the U.S. than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide, and illegal drugs combined.

Tobacco use costs the nation about $100 billion each year in direct medical expenses and in lost productivity for a total cost of about 200 billion per year as estimated by the CDC.

About 19.3% of all American adults (45.3 million people) smoke. Slightly more men (21.5%) smoke than women (17.3%). Hispanics (12.5%) and Asian Americans (9.2%) smoke less than whites (21.0%) or African Americans (20.6%). Almost 22% of those 25-44 years of age are current smokers. About 20% of all high school students are smokers.

Nevertheless, significant progress has been made since 1964, when the Surgeon General issued the first report outlining the health dangers of smoking. Since that time, the prevalence of smoking has dropped from 42.4% among adults to 19.3%. Lung cancer, chronic bronchitis and emphysema would become infrequently diagnosed diseases if people would stop smoking.

Compared to a nonsmoker, a smoker faces these risks:

  • fourteen times greater risk of dying from cancer of the lung, throat, or mouth;
  • four times greater risk of dying from cancer of the esophagus;
  • two times greater risk of dying from a heart attack;
  • and
  • two times greater risk of dying from cancer of the bladder.

Use of other tobacco products such as pipes, cigars, and snuff is less common, comprising less than 10% of use of all tobacco products; however, the health effects of these products are similar to those of cigarettes - particularly their association with cancers of the mouth, throat, and esophagus.

Increasing attention has been devoted to publicizing the dangers of second-hand (environmental) smoke, the association between tobacco marketing and initiation of smoking among youth, and the development of strategies and medications to help smokers quit. According to the CDC, about 126 million people are exposed to secondhand smoke and are put at risk for tobacco-related problems such as lung cancer, heart disease and respiratory infections. In addition, a new problem termed "third-hand smoke" has been recently investigated; cigarette smoke generated carcinogens lodge in clothing, carpets, drapes and other materials and can be absorbed through human skin, especially that of children and infants. These carcinogens can also be ingested and inhaled in dust.

Cigarette smoking has been linked strongly to the following illnesses:

  • heart disease
  • stroke
  • hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • other diseases of blood vessels (such as poor circulation in the legs) and aortic aneurysms (potentially life-threatening disruptions in the wall of the aorta)
  • respiratory illness, including the following:
    • lung cancer
    • emphysema
    • bronchitis
    • pneumonia
  • cancers, including:
    • lip or mouth
    • pharynx or larynx (voice box)
    • esophagus (food pipe)
    • stomach
    • pancreas
    • kidney
    • urinary bladder
    • cervix
    • ovary
  • peptic ulcer disease
  • burns

Must Read Articles Related to Cigarette Smoking

Cancer of the Mouth and Throat
Cancer of the Mouth and Throat Cancer of the mouth and throat may look like an ulcer or a sore on the tongue, lips, inside lining of the cheeks, and other structures. Tobacco use, sun exposur...learn more >>
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is a lung condition in which there is a long-lasting obstruction of the airways, and occurs with emphysema, chronic...learn more >>
Emphysema Emphysema a long-term, progressive disease of the lungs. The most common symptom of emphysema is shortness of breath. Causes and risk factors for emphysema incl...learn more >>

Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Nicotine Addiction »

Cigarette smoking is a major preventable cause of disease worldwide, and it is the major cause of premature death in North America.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

Medical Dictionary