The history, economics and hazards of tobacco

Most people know that smoking is bad for the health and causes lung cancer and heart attacks. What they may not know is that smoking causes many other diseases and illnesses. It is also the single most preventable cause of death in the U.S.

Tobacco causes about 435,000 deaths or 1 out of 6 deaths in the U.S. each year. 20,000 flu and pneumonia deaths are tied to smoking. Every year 174,000 smokers will die from heart disease. Smoking increases the risk of dying of a heart attack by 60%. Every year 143,000 smokers will die from different cancers, 83,000 from lung cancer alone, and 26,000 from strokes. A stroke happens when the brain does not get enough oxygen. For example, when a person has a stroke, he/she may not be able to talk and/or move a part of his/her body for awhile or forever.

Because of smoking, 40% of men and 28% of women die prematurely, before their time. According to the Surgeon General Report of 1985, “Smoking has killed more people in the U.S. alone than the number of Americans killed in battle or who died of war related diseases in all wars ever fought by this nation.” The total number of U.S. deaths in the Vietnam War was 58,151.

Smoking is the number one killer in the African-American community. Adult black males have a greater chance of dying from cigarettes than adult white males. This is partly because black males are more likely to smoke menthol-cigarettes-brands like Newports, Kools, and Salems and higher tar and nicotine brands. Mentholated cigarettes are particularly dangerous because the smoke is pulled deeper into the lungs.

Death Rate*, 1988




Both Sexes









Total Population†




* per 100,000 persons > = 35 years old adjusted to the 1980 U.S. population
† includes racial category “other” and passive smoking-related deaths

Source: Centers for Disease Control. Smoking-attributable mortality and years of potential life lost - United States, 1988, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, 1990; 40: 62-71.

Credit: African Americans and Smoking At A Glance, U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, CDC

Cigarette smoking is responsible for 30% of all cancer deaths. Smokers die not only of lung cancer but also of cancers of the mouth, larynx (throat), esophagus, bladder, kidney, cervix, and blood (leukemia). 87% of all lung cancers are caused by smoking. Since 1987, lung cancer has been the number one killer of women. Women who smoke more than 15 cigarettes a day double their risk of getting cervical cancer.

Cigarette smoking also causes or increases the risk of getting other lung diseases and conditions. Smoking causes bronchitis and emphysema. When a smoker has bronchitis, his/her bronchial tubes become inflamed or irritated. They produce too much mucus. This mucus blocks the tubes, and the smoker coughs a lot.

Emphysema is a lung disease that has no cure. A person with this disease has difficulty breathing because the walls of the small air sacs in the lungs are being destroyed. This makes big air surfaces. A person with emphysema gets tired very easily. He/she uses up so much energy just to breathe. As the disease gets worse, he/she cannot breathe in enough oxygen from the air and has to breathe through tubes attached to an oxygen tank. There is no cure for emphysema.

Smoking greatly increases the risk of getting other diseases and health problems. It speeds up the loss of bone in older women leading to osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a disease in which the bones get thin and weak. The bones can break very easily. People who are HIV positive are twice as likely to develop full blown AIDS if they smoke. Smokers also have a greater chance of getting stomach ulcers. Ulcers are sores in the stomach that are very painful and can bleed.

Heavy smokers also increase their chances of getting Peripheral Vascular Disease (PVD). In this disease the arteries that lead to the limbs (arms and legs) keep getting narrower. As a result, not enough oxygen-rich blood goes to the arms and/or legs. PVD causes pain in the arms or legs. It also makes it harder for the body to fight off infections. When an arm or leg is hurt, it cannot heal well. If the arteries get closed and no blood gets to a limb, the person gets gangrene. The limb then dies and must be cut off (amputated).

A man with Peripheral Vascular Disease may have trouble performing sex. His penis cannot get erect or hard because it does not receive a good flow of oxygen-rich blood.

Smoking-Related Diseases

() indicate the % of diseases caused by cigarettes

Cardiovascular Diseases

coronary artery disease (21-40%)

heart attacks

strokes (18%)

pain in the legs & gangrene


Lung (82%)

emphysema (90%)

chronic bronchitis

Cancer (30%)

lung cancer (80-85%)


larynx (84%)







bladder (40-60% in men, 20-30% in women)

Health Dangers of Smoking for Nonsmokers

Cigarettes do not just harm the people who smoke. They also harm the people who are near cigarettes and breathe the smoke. This includes fetuses (unborn babies still inside their mothers) and small children. They are breathing second hand smoke. Second hand smoke is the smoke that comes out of the lit end of a cigarette and that a smoker exhales (breathes out). Second hand smoke is also called passive smoke, involuntary smoke, and environmental tobacco smoke (ETS).

About 53,000 people die from second hand smoke every year. When we breathe second hand smoke, we are breathing the same 4,000 chemicals a cigarette smoker breathes. 51 of those chemicals cause cancer. That is why a U.S. government agency called the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has labelled cigarettes as a Group A carcinogen. A carcinogen is something that causes cancer. The EPA put cigarettes in the same group with arsenic, which is a deadly poison, and asbestos, a cancer causing material that used to be put around pipes to insulate them.

Source: Centers for Disease Control

In 1986 the Surgeon General of the U.S. wrote about the dangers of second hand smoke. He listed three conclusions:

First: Involuntary smoking is a cause of disease,including lung cancer, in healthy nonsmokers.

Second: The children of parents who smoke compared to children of nonsmoking parents have an increased frequency of respiratory infections, increased respiratory symptoms and slightly smaller rates of increase in lung function as the lung matures.

Third: Simple separation of smokers and non-smokers within the same airspace may reduce, but does not eliminate, exposure of nonsmokers to environmental tobacco smoke.

Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is dirtier than the smoke that is inhaled in a cigarette because it is not filtered. The filter on the end of a cigarette removes some the harmful chemicals. ETS is the largest source of indoor air pollution. Restaurants that allow smoking can have six times the pollution of a busy highway.

When people breathe ETS or second hand smoke on a regular basis in the workplace, their lungs are affected. Their lungs look as if the people smoked one to 10 cigarettes a day. That means nonsmoking workers in a smoking office have the same lung damage as a mild smoker. They have a 34% higher risk of getting lung cancer than workers who do not smoke or breathe second hand smoke on the job.

Every year second hand smoke causes 3,000 deaths from lung cancer in nonsmokers over 35 years old. These deaths are not just from people breathing cigarette smoke in the workplace. Second hand smoke increases the risk of lung cancer even in dogs. It increases the risk of heart disease in human beings by 30%. Every year 37,000 nonsmokers die from heart disease caused by exposure to ETS.

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