Since smoking cessation (stopping smoking) can be an extremely difficult process, understanding exactly how smoking harms your body can help keep you motivated to kick the habit. Although you may not think about the risks every time you smoke, smoking is not only dangerous, it is positively life-threatening. If you continue to smoke or use smokeless tobacco products, you are likely shaving years off your lifespan and setting yourself up for serious health problems.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), smoking is currently responsible for approximately 3.5 million deaths worldwide each year. Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, and it kills more than 400,000 U.S. citizens each year. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, the worldwide death toll from smoking will reach 10 million each year, causing nearly 18 percent of all deaths in the developed world.
To help you to understand the magnitude of smoking-related deaths, we can compare them with other sources of premature death. For example, the number of people who die from using tobacco is greater than the combined total number of people who die from murder, suicide, car accidents, fire, AIDS, and using alcohol, cocaine, and heroin. Tobacco use also accounts for one-third of all cancers. Smokers die from cancer at a rate that is twice as high as nonsmokers, and heavy smokers die at a rate that is four times higher than nonsmokers. Lung cancer is the number one cancer killer of both men and women, and smoking is associated with nearly 90 percent of lung cancer cases. In addition, smoking is a leading cause of cancers of the mouth, tongue, throat, larynx (voice box), esophagus, stomach, pancreas, cervix, kidney, ureter, and bladder.
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Cancer is not the only disease caused by smoking. Smoking also causes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, and worsens asthma. Cigarette smoking substantially increases the risk of coronary heart disease, including stroke, heart attack, aneurysm and vascular disease. It also contributes to peptic ulcers, varicose veins, osteoporosis, periodontal disease, Alzheimer's disease, atherosclerosis, high blood pressure, allergies, and impotence. The bottom line is that continuing to smoke puts you at risk of contracting a serious, life-threatening illness. If you contract any one of the diseases listed above, your quality of life will deteriorate and you will shorten your life span.
Smoking is dangerous, not only for the person holding the cigarette, but also for the people who share their environment. Secondhand smoke, which is caused by smokers and inhaled by people nearby, kills 53,000 nonsmokers in the U.S. each year. For every nine people killed by tobacco smoke, one is a nonsmoker. Secondhand smoke contributes to 3,000 lung cancer deaths in nonsmokers and as many as 40,000 deaths from cardiovascular disease each year.
Secondhand smoke is dangerous for anyone who comes into contact with it, but it is especially dangerous for unborn babies and small children. Smoking during pregnancy increases the risk of infant mortality, premature delivery, and babies with low birth weight. Tobacco smoke contains high levels of nicotine and carbon monoxide, which interfere with the oxygen supply to the fetus, and cause the developmental delays often seen in the fetuses and infants of mothers who smoke. Smoking around infants and children has also been linked to sudden death syndrome and to a rise in respiratory illnesses, including an increased risk of developing asthma and an increase in the symptoms of asthma in children who already have the disease.