Tobacco: The cause of a majority of health problems

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States.

Each year, cigarette smoking results in an estimated 443,000 premature deaths, of which about 49,400 are in non-smokers, as a result of exposure to secondhand smoke.

Cigarette smoke is a complex mixture of chemicals produced by the burning of tobacco and the additives.

The smoke contains tar, which is made up of more than 4,000 chemicals, including more than 60 known to cause cancer. Some of these substances cause heart and lung diseases, and all of them can be deadly.

In large doses, nicotine is a poison and can kill by stopping a person’s breathing muscles. Nicotine can make new smokers, and regular smokers who get too much of it, feel dizzy or sick to their stomachs.

The resting heart rate for young smokers increases 2 to 3 beats per minute.

Nicotine also lowers skin temperature and reduces blood flow to the legs and feet.

Tobacco use accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States. Smoking is attributed to about 87 percent of lung cancer deaths.

Smoking also causes cancer of larynx (voice box), mouth, pharynx (throat), esophagus (swallowing tube), and bladder, and contributes to the development of cancer of the pancreas, cervix, kidney and stomach.

Smoking is also linked to the development of some types of leukemia. Cigars, pipes, spit, and other types of smokeless tobacco all cause cancers, too. Despite many myths, there is no safe way to use tobacco.

Smoking also causes many short-term effects, such as poor lung function. Because of this, smokers often suffer shortness of breath and nagging coughs. They often will tire easily during physical activity.

Some other common short-term effects include less ability to smell and taste, premature aging of the skin, bad breath and stained teeth and fingers.

Long term, smoking is a major cause of heart disease, aneurysms, bronchitis, emphysema and stroke, and it makes pneumonia and asthma worse.

Wounds take longer to heal and the immune system may be less effective in smokers than in nonsmokers.

Smoking also damages the arteries. Vascular surgeons may refuse to operate on patients with peripheral artery disease (poor blood circulation in arms and legs) unless they stop smoking.

Chronic bronchitis is a disease in which the airways produce too much mucus, forcing the smoker to cough it out. It is a common problem for smokers. The lungs start to produce large amount of mucus due to lung irritation.

The airways become inflamed and the cough becomes chronic. With chronic bronchitis, airways get blocked by scars and mucus, therefore serious infections can result.

Emphysema is a disease that slowly destroys a person’s ability to breathe.

Oxygen reaches the blood by moving across a large surface area in the lungs. Normally, thousands of tiny sacs make up this surface area.

With emphysema, the walls between the sac break down and create larger but fewer sacs. This decreases the lung surface area, which lowers the amount of oxygen reaching the blood.

Over time, the lung surface area can become so small that a person with emphysema often must gasp for breath.

More than 7 million current and former smokers suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, the name used to describe both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. It is the fourth leading cause of death in Americans.

The late stage of chronic lung disease is one of the most severe of all medical conditions. It creates a feeling of gasping for breath all the time - much like the feeling of drowning.

Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of heart disease, which is the No. 1 cause of death in the United States.

Cigarette smoking is the biggest risk factor for sudden death from a heart attack.

Cigarette smoke can harm the heart at very low levels, even when the amount is too low to cause lung damage.

The truth is that cigarette smokers die younger than non-smokers.

About half of all the people who continue to smoke will die because of the habit.

In the United States, tobacco causes nearly one in five deaths, killing 443,000 Americans each year. Smoking is the single more preventable cause of death in our society.

The American Cancer Society is dedicated to eliminating cancer as a major health problem by saving lives, diminishing suffering and preventing cancer through research, education, advocacy and service. The Illinois Division has more than 120,000 volunteers and staff fighting cancer in the state.

For more information on skin cancer or any cancer-related information, call (800) 227-2345 or visit

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