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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:

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:

Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 2/26/2015

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Cigarette Smoking

When to Seek Medical Care if You Smoke Cigarettes

Anyone, but especially smokers, with unexplained or sudden onset chest pain or difficulty breathing should go to the nearest hospital's emergency department, probably by ambulance. These conditions may be symptoms of a heart attack or other serious health problems, which can be life-threatening if not recognized and treated promptly. Tobacco use may cause problems (for example, hypertension, vascular alterations) that lead to shortness of breath or chest pain that may be life-threatening.

Tobacco use may lead or contribute to one of the following causes of dyspnea or chest pain:

  • pneumonia,
  • acute attack of emphysema,
  • pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lung),
  • aortic aneurysm (a widening of the main artery leaving the heart, caused by a weakening in the wall of the artery), and
  • aortic dissection (a tearing of the wall of the aorta, which, if it ruptures, bleeds profusely).

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