Skip to main content

Cigarette Smoking Facts

Second hand smoke can also affect those around you, not just the person who chooses to smoke.

Second hand smoke can also affect those around you, not just the person who chooses to smoke.


Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable deaths in the modern world. In America alone, it is the cause of 440,000 deaths per year. Every day, 3,000 people have their first cigarette; most are under 17 years old. Eighty percent of those who die of lung cancer had smoked in their lifetime. Thirty percent of people who die of cancer had also smoked sometime in their lifetime. What makes cigarettes so deadly?

Do You Smoke?

Chemicals in Cigarettes

There are 4,800 chemicals in cigarettes, 69 known to cause cancer. You can find everything from ammonia to arsenic in one cigarette. We are often exposed to some of these chemicals, regardless of our exposure to these smokey treats. Still, chemicals like benzene that cause leukemia are rarely encountered except through cigarette smoke. Although 69 of the chemicals in cigarettes can cause cancer, there are 4,731 that do not but are still very harmful.

Here are three of the more well-known non-carcinogenic chemicals:

Carbon Monoxide (CO): Carbon monoxide is a poisonous, colorless, odorless gas, and yes, it is produced when you smoke, which not only can cause cancer, but CO binds with your hemoglobin, which will then turn into COHb. COHb causes your hemoglobin not to be able to absorb oxygen, which limits the oxygen to your brain and other tissues. Restricting oxygen to your tissues causes them to repair more slowly and become less capable of fighting off disease and illness. If you question whether this affects us, it is most likely CO that causes premature aging in smokers.

Hydrogen Cyanide: Zyklon B infamously uses hydrogen cyanide, a well-known substance used for mass genocide during World War II. Fortunately, most non-smokers are rarely exposed to this chemical. Those who smoke continually ingest this deadly poison; more significant amounts can cause instant death.

Nicotine: Nicotine probably has the worst rap since it is addictive, but it is not a carcinogen! That does not mean it is harmless. It is toxic. Older people are unlikely to get nicotine poisoning. Still, if a young child were to chew on a piece of nicotine gum accidentally, they could end up being rushed to the hospital with a very severe case of poisoning that could take their life.

Even tobacco companies know that it is bad for you.

Even tobacco companies know that it is bad for you.

Cancer Causing Agents in Cigarettes

There are 69 carcinogens in a cigarette, meaning every time you inhale that smokey treat, you also inhale 69 chemicals that could cause cancer. There are several more chemicals in cigarettes that are probable carcinogens.

Here are just four of the more well-known carcinogens found in cigarettes:

Arsenic: Arsenic is known to cause lung, skin, bladder, liver, and kidney cancer. We get this in the meat we eat as well, but those who smoke have a much higher level of arsenic in their bloodstream than their non-smoking carnivorous counterparts, which makes them more likely to develop these cancers.

Benzene: Benzene is known for causing leukemia. Unlike arsenic, the majority of our exposure to this chemical is only in cigarette smoke. We do not have many natural places where we come in contact with benzene. There is also a fair percentage of leukemia patients who may have developed their cancer due to their smoking habit.

Cadmium: Cadmium, primarily used in batteries, is a probable carcinogen. Still, even in small doses, it is toxic to our bodies. Trace amounts of cadmium are often found in all people because we pick it up from plants grown in the ground. It is alarming that those who smoke have twice as much in their body as a non-smoker.

Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde does not affect all people the same. Some can be exposed to it heavily and unaffected, while others can develop asthma due to exposure. It has recently been deemed a carcinogen, which may be the substance most responsible for causing asthma in second-hand smokers.

Diagram comparing a COPD lung to a healthy lung. COPD is a common result of smoking cigarettes.

Diagram comparing a COPD lung to a healthy lung. COPD is a common result of smoking cigarettes.

Harmful Effects

Most of us know that cigarette smoking can cause lung cancer. If you have been unfortunate enough to watch someone die of this cancer, you know how awful it is. Lung cancer patients usually die relatively young, like Humphrey Bogart, who died at age 57. But lung cancer is just one of the awful diseases that cigarette smoking can cause when nicotine and other chemicals go through your bloodstream when inhaled, affecting every living cell in your body.

Fortunately, our bodies are pretty resilient, and one day of smoking is unlikely to cause cancer to develop. Your chance of developing cancer increases with exposure to these toxins every year. All it takes is the DNA in one cell of your body to become mutated by the carcinogens for cancer to develop.

A carcinogen takes the DNA from a cell and mutates it. Usually, a mutated cell will die and not reproduce due to a checkpoint that detects mutations, and the cell will not multiply as most cells do. Unfortunately, it only takes one time for the checkpoint to fail for cancer to develop, which could happen to any cell exposed to the carcinogen. Since our bloodstream feeds our cells, and all our blood flow is affected by what we breathe in, a mutated cell could result when we breathe in the carcinogens from cigarettes.

Cancer is not the only possible harmful effect of cigarettes; others include:

  • heart disease (heart attacks or high blood pressure)
  • increased risk for thyroid disease, as well as problems within thyroid disease (hypothyroidism, Grave's Disease)
  • stroke
  • premature aging (wrinkles)
  • poor circulation
  • asthma (especially those exposed to second-hand smoke in their youth)
  • diabetes Type II
  • eye disease (macular degeneration and cataracts)
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (Emphysema and chronic asthmatic bronchitis)
There are 4,800 chemicals inside one cigarette, 69 of those are known to cause cancer.

There are 4,800 chemicals inside one cigarette, 69 of those are known to cause cancer.

Second-Hand Smoking Facts

Three thousand people who are nonsmokers die of smoking-related deaths each year. It may not sound like many compared to the 440,000 smokers that die annually, but these deaths could have been prevented.

Those most affected by second-hand smoke are those under the age of 18 months. More than 150,000 respiratory infections each year of children in this age range were caused by living in a home where second-hand smoke was present. Some reports estimate 300,000 young children's upper respiratory infections within this age range were due to second-hand smoke. Of these, 7,000 will end up in the hospital.

Twenty percent of children with asthma have more severe asthma attacks due to second-hand smoke. Even adults with asthma are more apt to flare if subjected to second-hand smoke.

Quotes About Smoking

Even John Quincy Adams, back in the 1700s, knew smoking was bad for you. After his three-month-long struggle to quit smoking, he was quoted saying:

I have often wished that every individual afflicted with this artificial passion could force it upon himself to try but for three months the experiment which I made, sure that it would turn every acre of tobacco land into a wheat field, and add five years to the average of human life.'

You don't have to be an ex-smoker to know it's terrible for you. Many tobacco companies have also been noted discussing the harmful effects of smoking. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company was quoted saying:

The amount of evidence accumulated to indict [accuse] cigarette smoke as a health hazard is overwhelming. The evidence challenging such an indictment is scant (quoted in 1962).

Camel is the same company that chose to use a cartooned camel as their slogan because they knew that "...comic strip type copy might get a much higher readership among younger people than any other type of copy" (quoted in 1973). They chose to do this because, "This young adult market, the 14 to 24 age group...represent(s) tomorrow's cigarette business." (quoted in 1974) In case you question whether they changed their stance on the harmful effects of cigarette smoking, they stated this in 1986:

It seems unlikely that we will be able to locate a toxicologist [a scientist who studies poisons] who will give a 'clean' opinion to tobacco, even if (s)he agrees that ingredients pose no risk. The most realistic hope is that we can get the impression that tobacco is a 'risk factor.

If tobacco companies know the health risks, we see the health risks. Why do we continue smoking? I hope not to see another family member die of lung cancer, let alone the thousands of other ways a person dies from cigarette smoke.

Works Cited

  • Terry Martin | Reviewed by a board-certified physician. "Nicotine Use." Verywell Mind. Accessed February 26, 2018.
  • "Welcome to" 101 Smoking Facts - The Facts About Smoking. Accessed February 26, 2018.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

Questions & Answers

Question: What causes emphysema?

Answer: First of all, I am not a doctor, nor do I work in the medical field, but I can tell you what WebMD says. It says that emphysema occurs when the lungs are damaged, specifically the air sac lining. The number one cause of this is smoking, although WebMD does state that they do not know why these are so interlinked. The site also states that people born with an AAT deficiency are more apt to get this disease, because AAT, or Alpha-1 antitrypsin, is a protein that circulates in the blood and it keeps white blood cells from damaging normal cells. Some people do not produce enough of this, leading to emphysema as well as liver problems, because it does not protect these organs as it should.

Although AAT deficiency and smoking are the primary causes, scientists believe that second-hand smoke and air pollution may also be damaging the lining of the air sacs and causing emphysema.

© 2012 Angela Michelle Schultz


FlourishAnyway from USA on April 14, 2013:

It's interesting that there is a genetic link to how easy it is to quit.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on July 14, 2012:

Teaches, We have that law in Michigan, and I'm so thankful as a person with asthma. There were certain places I could not go, because I would have an asthma flare every single time I went. Now that the law has been passed, I can go anywhere that's a public place and not have to worry about whether I'm going to get sick. It shocks me there are still places smoking is allowed.

hirundine from Nelson, B.C. Canada on July 13, 2012:

angela_michelle, Not so sure about that? Given that spittoons are not always around. Seeing the ground and surrounding environs with black nicotine stains is rather unpleasant.

I tried editing my original post, to say. First nations people, of the americas, used tobacco as a sacrament. As well as, to seal a deal. I'm given to understand that you did not inhale into the lungs? Also used for the purpose was mullein a herb, found over most of N.America. The purpose was, to allow the smoke to ascend to the spirits? For their blessing. ... Cheers!

Dianna Mendez on July 13, 2012:

I heard they were trying to pass a law in South Florida banning smoking in public places, this has really shocked some people. I hear the debates for and against and wonder why should this be such a concern? You have printed the facts, it's all about your health and how your habits affect life (yours and others). Hope your hub makes a positive difference. Voted up!

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on July 13, 2012:

hirundine, I do find it interesting as well that tobacco chewing does not get more exposure, but at least with chewing it only effects the person that chews, not the whole room, whereas cigarette smoking effects all that are involved.

Angela Michelle Schultz (author) from United States on July 13, 2012:

Bernard, it would have never occurred to me how low nicotine cigarettes would have that added affect. Thanks for sharing. It makes sense though.

hirundine from Nelson, B.C. Canada on July 13, 2012:

I worked with a man in the 1970s who wanted to quit smoking. So, he bought a big bag of marijuana and replaced the tobacco with it. After a month he had quit both habits. After reading this article from Time magazine, maybe he knew something that others did not?

I find it a little surprising that tobacco chewing is not given more exposure to the health risks. I notice lots of professional athletes, especially in baseball, using Skoal, etc. There are lots of cancers of the jaw, associated with chewing tobacco. The professional athletes seem oblivious to those dangers?

JP Carlos from Quezon CIty, Phlippines on July 13, 2012:

Smoking is without question bad for the health. Children who have parents that smoke are morelikely to smoke themselves.

Bernard Sinai from Papua New Guinea on July 12, 2012:

Great hub. Another less known fact is the cigarettes with low nicotine are actually bad for you if you are an addict. You will have to suck more from the cigarette to give you your daily fix. This means more consumption of poisonous gasses like carbon monoxide.