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Most tobacco-related disease and deaths are caused by smoking cigarettes. Although smoking is widespread, it is more common in certain groups, including American Indians/Alaska Natives, people with behavioral health conditions, LGBTQ+ people, people of color, and people with lower incomes and education levels. This is due to decades of excessive and aggressive marketing by the tobacco industry to minority groups.

Health Effects of Smoking

Smokers are exposed to a toxic mix of over 7,000 chemicals when they inhale cigarette smoke, the consequences of which can threaten their health in many ways. Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body and increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, lung diseases, and many types of cancer.

Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year. This is nearly one in five deaths. For every American who dies because of smoking, at least 30 are living with a serious smoking-related illness. Smoking-related illness cost the United States over $300 billion each year, including more than $225 billion in direct medical costs.

Health Effects of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is the combination of smoke from the burning end of a cigarette and the smoke breathed out by smokers. There is no risk-free level of secondhand smoke exposure. Secondhand smoke can cause:

  • Heart disease
    • For adults who do not smoke, breathing secondhand smoke has immediate harmful effects on the heart and blood vessels.
    • Secondhand smoke causes nearly 34,000 premature deaths from heart disease each year in the United States among adults who do not smoke.
    • People who do not smoke, but are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or at work, experience a 25-30% increase in their risk of developing heart disease.
  • Lung cancer
    • Secondhand smoke exposure causes more than 7,300 deaths from lung cancer among people who do not smoke.
  • Stroke
    • Each year, more than 8,000 deaths from stroke can be attributed to secondhand smoke.
  • Smoking during pregnancy results in more than 1,000 infant deaths annually.
    • Adults exposed to secondhand smoke during pregnancy are more likely to have newborns with lower birth weight, increasing the risk of health complications.
  • Infants exposed to secondhand smoke after birth have significantly higher risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
    • Chemicals in secondhand smoke appear to affect the brain in ways that interfere with its regulation of infants’ breathing.
  • Exposure to secondhand smoke causes multiple health problems in infants and young children, including:
    • Ear infections
    • Respiratory symptoms (coughing, wheezing, shortness of breath)
    • Acute lower respiratory infections, such as bronchitis and pneumonia
  • Children with asthma who encounter secondhand smoke have more severe and more frequent asthma attacks.