The many detrimental effects of smoking have been well documented, yet numerous people in the United States and worldwide continue to smoke. Quitting smoking can reduce the risk for multiple smoke-related diseases and prevent premature death.
Statistics on Smoking and Health
By 2012 numbers, 18% of the U. S. population (about 40 million people) were smokers, according to a 2014 Surgeon General's report on the health consequences of smoking. Between the first Surgeon General report in 1964 and the 2014 report 50 years later, 20 million Americans died as a result of smoking.
A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) fact sheet notes that each year, over 480,000 people die from the diseases of cigarette smoking. Smoking-related problems decrease work productivity and increase work absenteeism and healthcare expenses in the U. S.
Health Consequences of Smoking
The Surgeon General report states smoking is the leading cause of preventable premature death in the United States. Each subsequent report during the 50 years of study progressively showed:
- Smoking leads to overall poor health.
- Smoking affects multiple organs in the body, and there are few left untouched.
- The risks for many health consequences, such as lung diseases, have increased, although people are smoking fewer cigarettes.
- The increase in risks results from the addition of many toxic chemicals to cigarettes and their by-products after burning, in addition to an increase in the amounts of addictive substances.
- Secondhand smokers are also at risk from these deadly toxins and health fallout.
The Surgeon General report and the CDC's fact sheet review the many organ systems affected by smoking and the consequent disease processes.
The Chronic Diseases of Affected Organs
Below are some of the ways smoking affects various organs and systems.
- The brain: Stroke
- The eyes: Cataracts, age-related macular degeneration, blindness
- The mouth and throat: Inflammation of the gums, bad breath, and yellowing of the teeth
- The respiratory system: Numerous effects on the respiratory system, including asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, pneumonia, tuberculosis
- The cardiovascular system: Numerous effects in the cardiovascular system, including atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease (CHD), aortic aneurysm, high blood pressure, heart attacks. Thirty-two percent of all deaths from CHD is caused by smoking.
- The gastrointestinal system: Stomach ulcers
- Endocrine system: Increased risk of type 2 diabetes through smoking's effect on the pancreas
- Reproductive and urinary systems: Reduced female fertility, reduced male fertility, and impotence
- Musculoskeletal system: Many effects on musculoskeletal health, including rheumatoid arthritis and osteoporosis, with increased risk for hip fracture
- Immune system: Diminished function of the immune system and inflammation in tissues
The Cancers of Smoking
Smoking increases the risk of cancer of several organs of the body, including:
- The throat, including the mouth, tonsils, oropharynx, larynx
- The trachea and bronchi (the tubes that carry oxygen to the lungs)
- The lungs: 87% of lung cancer cases are attributable to cigarette smoking
- The esophagus, stomach, colon, rectum, liver and pancreas
- Cervix, kidney, ureter, and bladder
- Cancer of the blood cells: Acute myeloid leukemia
Effects on Pregnancy
Smoking also has adverse effects on a pregnancy and a fetus, causing an increased risk of:
- Miscarriage: Pregnancy loss up to 20 weeks
- Preterm delivery before 37 weeks
- Stillbirth where the baby dies in-utero
- Low birthweight infant
- Ectopic pregnancy: The embryo implants outside the uterus
- Placenta previa, where the placenta implants near or over the cervix
- Developmental clefts in the face and mouth (orofacial defects)
Effects of Smoking on Your Appearance
Your skin is not spared the adverse consequences of smoking, and the effects on your facial skin appearance can be starkly evident. Smoking diminishes the health of your skin as follows:
- Dehydrates your skin because of decreased blood flow
- The decreased blood flow also deprives your skin of essential nutrients and oxygen
- Causes signs of premature aging, including fine lines, wrinkles, and sagging because of the effects on elastin and collagen. These effects as well as hyperpigmented or age spots add years to your face.
- Increased risk of the skin disease, psoriasis, compared to non-smokers.
If you quit smoking, some of the skin changes might improve.
The Risk of Secondhand Smoke
The smoker exposes other people around him to the numerous toxic chemicals of secondhand smoke. Adult recipients of secondhand smoke are also at risk for smoke-related problems, including some of the same health consequences as firsthand smokers:
- Lung cancer, stroke, and coronary heart disease
- Adverse effects on a pregnancy, including delivery of a low birthweight infant
- Many non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke may notice nasal and throat irritation, sneezing, nausea, headache, or burning eyes when exposed to secondhand smoke.
Secondhand smoke also affects children and increases the risk for:
- Infant death from SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome)
- Pneumonia, asthma, and bronchitis and impaired lung function in young children
Quit Smoking Resources
If you are a smoker, there are resources to help you quit smoking. When you quit, your health risks can decrease significantly the longer to go without a smoking. You can access quit-smoking resources on the following pages:
The Sooner the Better
Smoking has numerous adverse consequences on the health of adults, children, and the fetus. The sooner you stop smoking, the better you can reduce your risks, including the risk of a too-early death.