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Inhaling Tobacco Smoke Causes Immediate Harm

Cigarette Smoke Damages Every Organ in the Body

Damage to body is immediate when you smoke

On December 9, 2010, the Surgeon General released How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease: A Report of the Surgeon General. This report explains in detail how tobacco smoke causes disease. It describes the ways tobacco smoke damages every organ in the body and causes disease and death.

Tobacco use is the single largest preventable cause of death and disease for both men and women in the United States today. More than 1,000 people are killed every day by cigarettes, and one-half of all long-term smokers are killed prematurely by smoking-related diseases such as heart attacks, chronic lung diseases, and cancers. For every person who dies from tobacco use, another 20 live with at least one serious tobacco-related illness.

And smoking doesn't harm just the smoker. Every year, thousands of nonsmokers die from heart disease and lung cancer, and thousands of children suffer from respiratory infections because of exposure to secondhand smoke. There is no risk-free level of exposure to tobacco smoke, and there is no safe tobacco product.

Surgeon General's Reports on Smoking and Health

The Surgeon General serves as America's Doctor by providing Americans the best scientific information available on how to improve their health and reduce the risk for illness and injury. Since 1964, when the first report on the dangers of smoking was published, the Surgeon General's office has released 29 reports that have documented the overwhelming and conclusive biologic, epidemiologic, behavioral, and pharmacologic evidence that tobacco use is deadly.

Photo: Glucose meter.

New science shows that people with diabetes are especially affected by tobacco smoke.

The landmark 1964 report, released during the tenure of Surgeon General Dr. Luther L. Terry, concluded that cigarette smoking causes lung and laryngeal cancer as well as chronic bronchitis. The report generated newspaper headlines and was the focal point of television newscasts across the country, ranking among the top news stories of 1964. The release of the report was the first in a series of steps, still being taken more than 45 years later, to diminish the impact of tobacco use on the health of the American people.

The 2010 report, How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease, like the reports that preceded it, provides the kind of information needed to help individuals, organizations, agencies, and policymakers address the effects of smoking.

This latest report is a comprehensive, scientific discussion of how mainstream and secondhand smoke exposures damage the human body. Decades of research have enabled scientists to identify the specific mechanisms of smoking-related diseases and to characterize them in great detail.

This report also investigates how and why smokers become addicted. Indeed, one-third of people who ever try smoking become daily smokers. The report documents that nicotine compares with heroin and cocaine in its hold on users and its effects on the brain.

This new report substantiates the evidence that there is no safe level of exposure to cigarette smoke. When individuals inhale cigarette smoke, either directly or secondhand, they are inhaling more than 7,000 chemicals and chemical compounds. Many of these chemicals are toxic and produce disease-causing cellular changes.

Key Findings from the Report

The scientific evidence reviewed in the 2010 Surgeon General's report supports the following:

  • There is no risk-free level of exposure to tobacco smoke.
  • Inhaling the complex chemical mixture of combustion compounds in tobacco smoke causes immediate damage to the body and leads to serious adverse health outcomes, particularly cancer, cardiovascular disease, and pulmonary disease.
  • Through multiple defined mechanisms, the risk and severity of many adverse health outcomes caused by smoking are directly related to the duration and level of exposure to tobacco smoke.
  • Long-term smoking is due to the powerfully addicting effects of tobacco products.
  • Even low levels of exposure, including exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, can trigger acute cardiovascular events such as heart attacks.
  • There is insufficient evidence that changes to the design or content of cigarettes reduce the risk for major adverse health outcomes.

What the Report Means to You

This Report of the Surgeon General is more than 700 pages long and includes the contributions of more than 60 leading health experts. Due to the complexity of the full report, the Surgeon General and CDC created a 20-page booklet entitled A Report of the Surgeon General: How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: What It Means to You. The booklet highlights information related to the poisons in tobacco smoke, the health effects of smoking, and the dangers of secondhand smoke.

Poison

The 2010 report reveals that tobacco smoke is a deadly mix of more than 7,000 chemicals and chemical compounds. The poisonous chemicals in tobacco smoke reach every organ in the body; they go quickly from the lungs into the blood, through the arteries, and to tissues in all parts of the body. The chemicals found in tobacco smoke include formaldehyde (also used to embalm dead bodies), cadmium (used in making batteries), arsenic, carbon monoxide (found in car exhaust), hydrogen cyanide, ammonia, butane (used in lighter fluids), and toluene (found in paint thinners).

Photo: A newborn baby.

One in every five babies born to mothers who smoke has low birth weight.

Health Effects

The adverse health effects of tobacco use are numerous and far reaching. The 2010 report provides information on how smoking can start the body on a path toward cancer, how it makes diabetes harder to control, and how every cigarette smoked damages breathing because the poisons in tobacco smoke harm the body from the moment they enter the mouth.

The report explains how smoking harms reproduction and children's health. It discusses how smoking reduces a woman's chance of getting pregnant and how it can increase the risk for pregnancy complications, premature delivery, low birth weight infants, stillbirth, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Some of the key material in the report focuses on how smoking causes immediate damage to arteries and why this is so dangerous. Almost immediately, cells that line the body's blood vessels react to the poisons in tobacco smoke. Smoking alters blood chemistry and can lead to clots that block blood flow to the heart, brain, or legs. This can trigger heart attack or stroke. Completely blocked arteries can cause sudden death.

Secondhand Smoke

Also of importance in the report is information on just how dangerous secondhand smoke can be. Exposure to secondhand smoke causes bronchitis, pneumonia, and ear infections in children.

When nonsmokers breathe secondhand smoke, platelets in their blood get sticky and may form clots, just as they do in people who smoke. Even spending time in a smoky room could trigger a heart attack. Don't allow anyone to smoke anywhere in or near your home, and don't allow anyone to smoke in your car (even with the window down).

Help to Quit

Millions of former smokers have successfully quit. In fact, today there are more former smokers than smokers. For help, visit www.smokefree.gov or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669; TTY 1-800-332-8615).

More Information

  • Page last reviewed: December 9, 2010
  • Page last updated: December 9, 2010
  • Content source:
    • Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
    • Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs
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