A Report of the Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke
Causes Disease -
The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable DiseaseFact Sheet
This is the 30th tobacco-related Surgeon General’s
report issued since 1964. It describes in detail the specific pathways by
which tobacco smoke damages the human body. The scientific evidence supports
the following conclusions:
There is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Any exposure
to tobacco smoke – even an occasional cigarette or exposure to secondhand
smoke – is harmful.
- You don’t have to be a heavy smoker or a long-time smoker to get a
smoking-related disease or have a heart attack or asthma attack that is
triggered by tobacco smoke.
- Low levels of smoke exposure, including exposures to secondhand
tobacco smoke, lead to a rapid and sharp increase in dysfunction and
inflammation of the lining of the blood vessels, which are implicated in
heart attacks and stroke.
- Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals and compounds.
Hundreds are toxic and at least 69 cause cancer. Tobacco smoke itself is a
known human carcinogen.
- Chemicals in tobacco smoke interfere with the functioning of fallopian
tubes, increasing risk for adverse pregnancy outcomes such as ectopic
pregnancy, miscarriage, and low birth weight. They also damage the DNA in
sperm which might reduce fertility and harm fetal development.
Damage from tobacco smoke is immediate.
- The chemicals in tobacco smoke reach your lungs quickly every time you
inhale. Your blood then carries the toxicants to every organ in your body.
- The chemicals and toxicants in tobacco smoke damage DNA, which can
lead to cancer. Nearly one-third of all cancer deaths every year are
directly linked to smoking. Smoking causes about 85% of lung cancers in
- Exposure to tobacco smoke quickly damages blood vessels throughout the
body and makes blood more likely to clot. This damage can cause heart
attacks, strokes, and even sudden death.
- The chemicals in tobacco smoke inflame the delicate lining of the
lungs and can cause permanent damage that reduces the ability of the lungs
to exchange air efficiently and leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary
disease (COPD), which includes emphysema and chronic bronchitis.
Smoking longer means more damage.
- Both the risk and the severity of many diseases caused by smoking are
directly related to how long the smoker has smoked and the number of
cigarettes smoked per day.
- Chemicals in tobacco smoke cause inflammation and cell damage, and can
weaken the immune system. The body makes white blood cells to respond to
injuries, infections, and cancers. White blood cell counts stay high while
smoking continues, meaning the body is constantly fighting against the
damage caused by smoking which can lead to disease in almost any part of
- Smoking can cause cancer and weaken your body’s ability to fight
cancer. With any cancer – even those not related to tobacco use – smoking
can decrease the benefits of chemotherapy and other cancer treatments.
Exposure to tobacco smoke can help tumors grow.
- The chemicals in tobacco smoke complicate the regulation of blood
sugar levels, exacerbating the health issues resulting from diabetes.
Smokers with diabetes have a higher risk of heart and kidney disease,
amputation, eye disease causing blindness, nerve damage and poor
Cigarettes are designed
- The design and contents of tobacco products make them more attractive
and addictive than ever before.
Cigarettes today deliver nicotine more quickly from the lungs to the heart
- While nicotine is the key chemical compound that causes and sustains
the powerful addicting effects of cigarettes, other ingredients and design
features make them even more attractive and more addictive.
- The powerful addicting elements of tobacco products affect multiple
types of nicotine receptors in the brain.
- Evidence suggests that psychosocial, biologic, and genetic factors may
also play a role in nicotine addiction.
- Adolescents’ bodies are more sensitive to nicotine, and adolescents
are more easily addicted than adults. This helps explain why about 1,000
teenagers become daily smokers every day.
There is no safe cigarette.
- The evidence indicates that changing cigarette designs over the last
five decades, including filtered, low-tar, and “light” variations, have
NOT reduced overall disease risk among smokers and may have hindered
prevention and cessation efforts.
- The overall health of the public could be harmed if the introduction
of novel tobacco products encourages tobacco use among people who would
otherwise be unlikely to use a tobacco product or delays cessation among
persons who would otherwise quit using tobacco altogether.
The only proven strategy
for reducing the risk of tobacco-related disease and death is to never
smoke, and if you do smoke to quit.
- Quitting at any age and at any time is beneficial. It's never too late
to quit, but the sooner the better.
- Quitting gives your body a chance to heal the damage caused by
- When smokers quit, the risk for a heart attack drops sharply after
just 1 year; stroke risk can fall to about the same as a nonsmoker’s after
2-5 years; risks for cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder
are cut in half after 5 years; and the risk for dying of lung cancer drops
by half after 10 years.
- Smokers often make several attempts before they are able to quit, but
new strategies for cessation, including nicotine replacement and
non-nicotine medications, can make it easier.
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