Risks of tobacco

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Alternative Names

Secondhand smoke - risks; Cigarette smoking - risks; Smoking and smokeless tobacco - risks

Information

Tobacco is a plant. Its leaves are smoked, chewed, or sniffed for a variety of effects.

  • Tobacco contains the chemical nicotine, which is an addictive substance.
  • Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer.
  • Tobacco that is not burned is called smokeless tobacco. Including nicotine, there are 29 chemicals in smokeless tobacco that are known to cause cancer.

HEALTH RISKS OF SMOKING OR USING SMOKELESS TOBACCO

Knowing the serious health risks of using tobacco may help motivate you to quit. Using tobacco over a long time can increase your risk of many health problems.

Heart and blood vessel problems:

Other health risks or problems:

  • Cancer (more likely in the lung, mouth, larynx, nose and sinuses, throat, esophagus, stomach, bladder, kidney, pancreas, cervix, colon, and rectum)
  • Poor wound healing after surgery
  • Lung problems, such as COPD or asthma that is harder to control
  • Problems during pregnancy, such as babies born at a low birth weight, , , and
  • Decreased ability to taste and smell
  • Harm to sperm, which may lead to infertility
  • Loss of sight due to an increased risk of macular degeneration
  • Tooth and gum diseases
  • Wrinkling of the skin

Smokers who switch to smokeless tobacco instead of quitting tobacco still have health risks:

  • Increased risk of mouth or nasal cancer
  • Gum problems, tooth wear, and cavities
  • Worsening high blood pressure and angina

HEALTH RISKS OF SECONDHAND SMOKE

Those who are often around the smoke of others (secondhand smoke) have a higher risk of:

  • Heart attack and heart disease
  • Lung cancer
  • Sudden and severe reactions, including of the eye, nose, throat, and lower respiratory tract

Infants and children who are often exposed to secondhand smoke are at risk of:

  • Asthma flares (children with asthma who live with a smoker are much more likely to visit the emergency room)
  • Infections of the mouth, throat, sinuses, ears, and lungs
  • Lung damage (poor lung function)
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Like any addiction, quitting tobacco is difficult, especially if you are doing it alone.

References

Benowitz NL, Brunetta PG. Smoking hazards and cessation. In: Broaddus VC, Mason RJ, Ernst JD, et al, eds. Murray and Nadel's Textbook of Respiratory Medicine. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 46.

Rakel RE, Houston T. Nicotine addiction. In: Rakel RE, Rakel DP, eds. Textbook of Family Medicine. 9th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 49.

U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Behavioral and pharmacotherapy interventions for tobacco smoking cessation in adults, including pregnant women. U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendation Statement. Ann Intern Med. 2015 Sep 22. doi:10.7326/M15-2023. PMID: 26389730 www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26389730.

Version Info

  • Last reviewed on 8/29/2015
  • Laura J. Martin, MD, MPH, ABIM Board Certified in Internal Medicine and Hospice and Palliative Medicine, Atlanta, GA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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