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Cigarette Smoking

Cigarette Smoking Overview

Cigarette smoking is a leading contributor to death and illness among Americans.

Significantly fewer than half of all American adults smoke. Slightly more men smoke than women. Hispanics and Asian Americans smoke less than whites or African Americans. Fewer than one third of people ages 25 to 44 are current smokers.

Since 1964, when the Surgeon General issued the first report outlining the health dangers of smoking, the prevalence of smoking has dropped among adults. The incidence of lung cancer, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema would become significantly less common 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; 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 non-smoking Americans are exposed to secondhand smoke and 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:
  • cancers, including:
    • lip or mouth
    • pharynx or larynx (voice box)
    • esophagus (food pipe)
    • stomach
    • pancreas
    • kidney
    • urinary bladder
    • cervix
    • ovary
  • peptic ulcer disease
  • burns

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 12/16/2014

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