Over 20% of the adult population in the United States smokes tobacco, and one in five deaths are attributable to tobacco use. If you are one of these smokers, two things are true. First, your risk of premature death -- and premature disability from illness -- is much higher than it ought to be. And second, if you quit smoking -- whatever your age and state of health -- you can substantially improve your general health and your life expectancy.
What Are The Health Effects of Smoking?The most serious health problems caused by smoking are cardiovascular disease, cancer, and lung disease. But smoking also causes other health problems that make life, if not shorter, much less enjoyable.
- Cardiovascular Disease. Smoking tobacco greatly accelerates atherosclerosis, the disease process that produces coronary artery disease (CAD), as well as heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, stroke, abdominal aortic aneurysms, and sudden death. Once you have CAD, smoking increases increase your risk of having acute coronary syndrome, including heart attacks. You can learn more about smoking and the heart.
- Cancer. Smoking is a major risk factor for several types of cancer, especially lung cancer, several gastrointestinal cancers, bladder cancer, certain types of leukemia, and head and throat cancers. Some studies suggest a higher risk of breast cancer in smokers as well.
- Lung Disease. Smoking significantly increases the risk of chonic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), pneumonia, and (it bears repeating) lung cancer. It can also worsen the symptoms of asthma in adults.
- Peptic Ulcer Disease. Smokers have a significantly higher incidence of ulcers.
- Diabetes. Smoking is a major risk factor for the development of type 2 diabetes.
- Osteoporosis. Smoking accelerates bone loss, especially in women, and contributes to fractures.
- Cutaneous. Smoking causes premature aging of the skin.
- Reproductive problems. Women who smoke have a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy, premature menopause, miscarriage, and infertility.
What Are the Benefits of Smoking Cessation?If you quit smoking, your risk of developing all of these conditions is substantially reduced. If you already have one or more of these conditions, smoking cessation can be expected to significantly slow the progression of your illness, improve your chances of living longer, greatly diminish your symptoms, and improve your sense of well-being.
Any way you look at it, smoking is likely to make you feel lousy at a relatively young age, if not kill you well before your time. Quitting may be the hardest thing you ever do, but it will also be the best thing you ever do for your health.
Anthonisen, NR, Skeans, MA, Wise, RA, et al. The effects of a smoking cessation intervention on 14.5-year mortality: a randomized clinical trial. Ann Intern Med 2005; 142:233.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Smoking-attributable mortality, years of potential life lost, and productivity losses--United States, 2000-2004. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2008; 57:1226.
Multiple risk factor intervention trial. Risk factor changes and mortality results. Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial Research Group. JAMA 1982; 248:1465.