What in tobacco smoke is harmful?

Cigarettes, cigars, and pipe tobacco are made from dried tobacco leaves, and ingredients are added for flavor and to make smoking more pleasant. The smoke from these products is a complex mixture of chemicals produced by the burning of tobacco and its additives. Tobacco smoke is made up of more than 7,000 chemicals, including over 70 known to cause cancer (carcinogens). Some of these substances cause heart and lung diseases, too, and all of them can be deadly. You might be surprised to know some of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke include

  • Cyanide
  • Benzene
  • Formaldehyde
  • Methanol (wood alcohol)
  • Acetylene (the fuel used in welding torches)
  • Ammonia

Tobacco smoke also contains tar and the poison gases carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide. The ingredient that produces the effect people are looking for is nicotine, an addictive drug and one of the harshest chemicals in tobacco smoke.

The tobacco leaves used to make cigarettes and cigars contain radioactive materials the amount depends on the soil the plants were grown in and fertilizers used. But this means that the smoke contains small amounts of radioactive material, too, which smokers take into their lungs as they inhale. These radioactive particles build up in the lungs, and over time can mean a big dose of radiation. This may be another key factor in smokers getting lung cancer.

Does smoking cause cancer?

Yes. Smoking accounts for at least 30% of all cancer deaths in the United States. It causes 87% of lung cancer deaths in men and 70% in women. Smoking also causes cancers of the nasopharynx (upper throat), nasal cavity, paranasal sinuses, lip, larynx (voice box), mouth, pharynx (throat), esophagus (swallowing tube), and bladder. It also has been linked to the development of cancers of the pancreas, cervix, ovary, colorectum, kidney, stomach, and some types of leukemia. Cigarettes, cigars, pipes, and spit and other types of smokeless tobacco all cause cancer. There is no safe way to use tobacco.

How cigarettes damage your body

Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Here s why.

Factors like high blood pressure can stretch out the arteries and cause scarring. Bad cholesterol, called LDL, often gets lodged in the scar tissue and combines with white blood cells to form clots. The good cholesterol, called HDL, helps keep the LDL from sticking and building up.

Here are some other problems smoking causes

  • Smoking robs you of some of your good cholesterol.
  • Smoking temporarily raises your blood pressure.
  • Smoking increases the blood s clotting likelihood.
  • Smoking makes it more difficult to exercise.

Although cigarette smoking alone increases your risk of coronary heart disease, it greatly increases risk to your whole cardiovascular system. Smoking also increases the risk of recurrent coronary heart disease after bypass surgery.

Atherosclerosis is the buildup of fatty substances in the arteries, and is a chief contributor to heart disease the No. 1 killer in America.

Stroke risks are higher, too. Because smoking temporarily increases blood pressure, and also increases cholesterol build ups and the tendency for blood to clot, both types of strokes are more likely for a person who smokes. There are strokes caused from bleeding because of a weakened blood vessel and strokes caused by blockages and clots that form in a vessel and cut off blood flow to the brain. Stroke is one of the leading causes of death and adult disability in America.

Smoking also contributes to peripheral artery disease. Again, because of the added strain smoking places on the arteries and veins, peripheral artery disease is much more like among smokers, and the habit also further increases the risk for aortic aneurism.

There is hope and help

Despite all these scary facts, there is hope if you re a smoker. Did you know that almost immediately after you quit smoking, your lungs and other smoke damaged organs start to repair themselves? You can start getting better the day you put down the cigarettes.

See how this process happens in the Smoke Free Living Benefits & Milestones.

Lung and breathing problems

Your lungs are “air exchange organs.” They re made up of tubes that branch out into small sacs called bronchioles and alveoli where oxygen exchange takes place. Your body takes in the oxygen you breathe and uses it as fuel. When you breathe in, the sacs inflate. When you breathe out, the sacs deflate.

In a healthy person, these tubes and sacs are very elastic and spongy. In a person with a chronic lung disease, these sacs lose their elasticity and oxygen exchange is greatly impaired. When that happens, your body is in grave danger because we can t live without oxygen!

The lungs protect themselves with a thin layer of protective mucus and by moving toxic particles out with small hairs. In a smoker s lungs, the small hairs, called cilia, move slower and struggle to remove harmful particles. You can t cough, sneeze or swallow effectively to clear these toxins. They become trapped in your lungs, leading to higher risk for numerous dangerous health problems, including heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease is usually made up of two conditions that make breathing difficult emphysema and chronic bronchitis. When you have emphysema, the air sacs in your lungs start to deteriorate and lose their elasticity. Chronic bronchitis occurs when the lining in the tubes in your lungs swell and restrict your breathing. These conditions are directly related to smoking.

Learn more

  • Getting Ready to Quit Smoking
  • Medicines to Help