Tobacco has been around for centuries, but what we know about the health damage from smoking is much newer. For example, smokers tend to die more than 10 years earlier than people who don’t smoke. You can improve your health by choosing to quit smoking.
Since at least the 1950s, health experts have linked smoking to lung cancer. Research continues to pinpoint more ways tobacco harms your health, from cancers to chronic (long-term) diseases.
Experts estimate that 16 million Americans live with a disease caused by smoking. Every year, roughly 480,000 people die from smoking-related diseases. That means that for every person who dies from smoking, at least 30 others live with a serious smoking-related illness.
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Many people believe that smoking a cigar is safer than smoking a cigarette. But, cigar smokers face many of the same potential risks as cigarette smokers, including cancer. Chewing tobacco or smokeless tobacco products are not safer than cigarettes, either. Smokeless tobacco contains almost 30 cancer-causing chemicals.
E-cigarettes (vapes), an emerging form of nicotine delivery, differ from traditional tobacco products. Vaping delivers more concentrated nicotine than cigarettes in a smokeless inhaled mist (vapor). Health risks from vape products range from asthma to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and cancer.
Tobacco use harms every organ in your body. Smoking tobacco introduces not only nicotine but also more than 5,000 chemicals, including numerous carcinogens (cancer-causing chemicals), into your lungs, blood and organs.
The damage caused by smoking can shorten your lifespan significantly. In fact, smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States.
Pregnant women who smoke put their unborn babies at risk, too. Possible effects on pregnancy include:
Smokeless tobacco can cause nicotine addiction. People who use chewing tobacco may develop cancers of the mouth, esophagus and pancreas. And chewing tobacco causes gum disease, tooth decay and tooth loss.
The safety and dangers of e-cigarettes remain unclear. Many e-cigarettes contain high amounts of nicotine. And vaping may be a gateway into other forms of nicotine, like cigarettes or chewing tobacco.
E-cigarette vapors contain other damaging substances, too. Inhaling these non-nicotine vape ingredients may cause severe, sometimes deadly lung damage (called EVALI).
Diagnosis depends on your specific symptoms. For example, a smokeless tobacco user who develops stomach cancer from swallowing juice with nicotine in it will need different tests than a person who inhales smoke.
If you smoke, your healthcare provider will ask for details about your tobacco use, physically examine you and sometimes order tests (like an X-ray to check for organ damage or an electrocardiogram and other heart-related tests).
In addition to its known cancer risks, smoking causes many other chronic (long-term) health problems that need ongoing care. Specific smoking-related problems that need treatment include:
Most diseases caused by smoking can be managed by a healthcare provider. You might need:
The best way to avoid getting sick from smoking is to never start. If you do smoke, quitting as soon as possible can prevent or reverse health problems. Without smoking, you can:
There are many different ways to quit smoking. To succeed, you have to find a smoking cessation plan that works for your personality. You need to be ready emotionally and mentally. You should want to quit smoking for yourself and not just for family or friends exposed to your secondhand smoke.
When you decide to quit, these pointers can help:
Smoking cessation, at any age, will improve your health. Years of smoking damage can reverse with time.
When you quit, benefits happen almost immediately:
When you’re ready to quit smoking, you have a lot of supportive resources to choose from. Medical clinics, local pharmacies and support groups like Nicotine Anonymous are ready to help you quit. Apps and websites offer encouragement and accountability when you try to quit.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Choosing to quit smoking is a huge step toward living a healthy life. Though it may feel insurmountable, it’s not. Quitting is the right thing to do for your health.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 10/28/2020.
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