Smoking: Do you really know the risks?

Updated:Mar 27,2015

quitters win.You probably know about  the relationship between smoking and lung cancer, but did you know smoking is also linked to heart disease, stroke and other chronic lung diseases?  Smoking can also increase your risk for cancer of the bladder, throat and mouth, kidneys, cervix and pancreas.  Thinking about quitting? Look at the facts!

Why you should quit?

  • Smoking is the most preventable cause of death in the United States. 
  • Almost one third of deaths from coronary heart disease are attributable to smoking and secondhand smoke.
  • Smoking is linked to about 90% of lung cancer cases in the United States.
  • About 20 percent of adult men and about 16 percent of adult women smoke.
  • The highest percentage of people who smoke are between the ages of 21 and 34.
  • About 54 percent of American children ages 3-11 are exposed to secondhand smoke.
  • On average, smokers die more than 10 years earlier than nonsmokers. 
  • You can be one of the millions of people who successfully quit every year.
Dangers of Smoking Graphic

What makes cigarettes so toxic and dangerous?

There are more than 5,000 chemical components found in cigarette smoke and hundreds of them are harmful to human health, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Here are a few examples:

  • 1,3-Butadiene is a chemical used to manufacture rubber. It is considered to be a carcinogenic chemical that can cause certain blood cancers.
  • Arsenic is used to preserve wood. Some arsenic compounds have been linked to cancer of the lung, skin, liver, and bladder.
  • Benzene is used to manufacture other chemicals. It can cause cancer, particularly leukemia, in humans.
  • Cadmium is a metal used to make batteries. Cadmium and cadmium compounds can cause lung cancer and have been associated with kidney and prostate cancer.
  • Chromium VI is used to make alloy metals, paint and dyes. Chromium VI compounds cause lung cancer and have been associated with cancer of the nose and nasal sinuses.
  • Formaldehyde is used to make other chemicals and resins. It is also used as a preservative. Formaldehyde causes leukemia and cancer in respiratory tissues.
  • Polonium-210 is a radioactive element that has been shown to cause cancer in animals.
  • Tar is not one single chemical, instead it describes several chemicals that are in tobacco smoke. It leaves a sticky, brown residue on your lungs, teeth and fingernails.

Carbon monoxide & nicotine: A dangerous duo

Carbon monoxide is a harmful gas you inhale when you smoke.  Once in your lungs, it’s transferred to your bloodstream.  Carbon monoxide decreases the amount of oxygen that is carried in the red blood cells.  It also increases the amount of cholesterol that is deposited into the inner lining of the arteries which, over time, can cause the arteries to harden.  This leads to heart disease, artery disease and possibly heart attack.

Nicotine is a dangerous and highly addictive chemical. It can cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rate, flow of blood to the heart and a narrowing of the arteries (vessels that carry blood). Nicotine may also contribute to the hardening of the arterial walls, which in turn, may lead to a heart attack. This chemical can stay in your body for six to eight hours depending on how often you smoke.  Also, as with most addictive substances, there are some side effects of withdrawal.

Second-Hand Smoke

Smokers aren’t the only ones affected by tobacco smoke. Secondhand smoke is a serious health hazard for nonsmokers, especially children. Nonsmokers who have high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol have an even greater risk of developing heart diseases when they’re exposed to secondhand smoke.

Secondhand tobacco smoke contributes to about 34,000 premature heart disease deaths and 7,300 lung cancer deaths. Studies show that the risk of developing heart disease is about 25-30 percent higher among people exposed to environmental tobacco smoke at home or work. Secondhand smoke promotes illness, too. Children of smokers have many more respiratory infections than do children of nonsmokers. Excerpted and adapted from "When Risk Factors Unite," appearing in the Stroke Connection Magazine January/February 2005 (Science update May 2008)

These are just a few of the dangerous chemicals found in cigarettes; there are many more.  But you do not have to spend the rest of your life giving in to your addiction! Thousands of people kick the habit every year, and you can be one of them.  It may not be easy, but you can do it!

Learn more:



Last reviewed 2/2015

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Smokers have more than twice the risk of heart attack as nonsmokers. Smoking is a major risk factor for stroke, too.