The harmful effects of smoking first received national attention in 1964, when the surgeon general issued a report concluding that smoking causes chronic bronchitis and cancers of the lung and larynx. By 2004, the surgeon general's report concluded that smoking injures nearly every organ in the body, leading to a large number of diseases. The 2014 report of the surgeon general further expanded the list of diseases caused by cigarette smoke. Smoking has devastating health consequences, including cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases, cancers, diabetes, reduced fertility, erectile dysfunction, blindness and birth defects.
Cigarette smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease, which includes diseases of the heart and the blood vessels. Smoking cigarettes increases the likelihood of developing nearly all forms of cardiovascular disease. Smoking promotes atherosclerosis, a disease of the blood vessels that begins with damage to the inner lining of the artery wall. As the body works to heal this damage, hard plaques are formed, causing the arteries to harden and narrow. The progression of atherosclerosis increases the risk for heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease, aortic aneurysm, dementia in older adults and sudden death.
Smoking is the primary cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease -- or COPD -- which is a condition that includes both chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Smoking makes symptoms worse in people who already have asthma, and it may actually cause the onset of asthma in some adolescents and adults. People who smoke are at increased risk for tuberculosis, pneumococcal pneumonia, influenza and other infections typically involving the lungs. Furthermore, smoking is suspected as being one of the causes of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a very serious lung disease that results in scarring, thickening and hardening of the lung tissue.
Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 toxic chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer, according to the 2014 surgeon general's report. Since the initial discovery of the link between smoking and lung cancer, the number of cancers linked to smoking has grown quite a bit. As of 2014, the list published by the surgeon general includes acute myeloid leukemia and cancers of the tongue, throat, vocal cords, esophagus, lungs, breast, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, cervix, bladder, colon and rectum.
Simply put, people who smoke are more likely to be sick, age poorly and have a poorer quality of life. Smoking increases the risk for cataracts and age-related macular degeneration, a condition that leads to vision loss. It contributes to gum disease and tooth loss. Smoking leads to a weakened immune system and increases vulnerability to a wide range of infections. Women who smoke are at greater risk for developing osteoporosis, a disease that causes brittle bones. Smoking impacts reproductive health, making pregnancy more difficult and riskier. It also increases the chances of having a baby who is small or has birth defects. Smoking may even increase the risk for developing type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: The Health Consequences of Smoking -- 50 Years of Progress -- A Report of the Surgeon General, 2014
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: Smoking and Health -- Report of the Advisory Committee of the Surgeon General of the Public Health Service, 1964
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: The Health Consequences of Smoking -- A Report of the Surgeon General, 2004
- U.S. Department of Health and Human Services: What Is Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis?