A Nurse’s Guide to the Dangers of Smoking

Smoking and Death

Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States.

  • Nearly one in five deaths in the United States is caused by smoking. This amounts to more than 480,000 deaths each year.
  • Smoking is responsible for more deaths each year than HIV, drug and alcohol abuse, motor vehicle accidents, and firearms combined.
  • Smoking has caused 10 times as many premature American deaths than all U.S. wars combined.
  • Lung cancer kills more women each year than breast cancer. About 90% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking.
  • About 80% of all chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) deaths are caused by smoking.
  • The risk of death caused by a wide variety of diseases in both men and women is increased by cigarette smoking.
  • Over the past 50 years, the risk of death due to smoking has increased in the United States.

Smoking and Increased Health Risks

Smokers have an increased risk of stroke, heart disease, and lung cancer.

  • Estimates show that stroke and heart disease are 2-4 times more likely in smokers than non-smokers.
  • Smokers are 25 times more likely to develop lung cancer than non-smokers.
  • Aside from these health risks, smoking increases health-care costs and reduces overall health.

Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease

The risk of cardiovascular disease is higher for smokers than non-smokers.

  • Stroke and coronary heart disease, which are among the leading causes of death, can be caused by smoking.
  • Early signs of cardiovascular disease may be present in people who smoke as few as five cigarettes each day.
  • Smoking can cause coronary artery disease, a thickening and narrowing of blood vessels. This causes increases in heart rate and blood pressure and may lead to clotting.
  • When a clot blocks blood flow to the brain or a blood vessel in the brain bursts, a stroke is the result.
  • The blocking of blood vessels caused by smoking reduces blood flow to the body’s skin and lower extremities.

Smoking and Respiratory Disease

Smoking damages the alveoli in lungs, leading to an increased risk of respiratory disease.

  • Smoking increases the risk of COPD, emphysema, and chronic bronchitis.
  • Most cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking.
  • Smoking increases the risk of death from COPD by 12 to 13 times.
  • People with asthma who also smoke have an increased likelihood of an asthma attack.

Smoking and Cancer

Smoking causes many forms of cancer, not just lung cancer.

  • Parts of the body that can develop cancers due to smoking include the bladder, esophagus, larynx, liver, pancreas, and trachea.

Smoking also increases the risk of death from these cancers compared to non-smokers. One in three cancer deaths in the United States would be prevented if smoking were eliminated.

Smoking and Other Health Risks

Smoking decreases overall health and has a negative impact on nearly every part of the body.

  • Smoking leads to a variety of issues for pregnant women, new mothers, and those trying to become pregnant, including decreased fertility and increased rates of stillbirth, low birth weight, premature delivery, ectopic pregnancy, and sudden infant death syndrome.
  • Smoking also decreases fertility in men and can cause birth defects through the sperm.
  • Smoking diminishes bone health and leads to an increased risk of broken bones.
  • Decreased oral health and a higher risk of losing teeth are linked to smoking.
  • Smoking is linked to an increased risk of cataracts and other optical health issues.
  • Type 2 diabetes is 30-40% more likely in smokers than non-smokers.
  • Smoking leads to lower immunity to disease and infection.
  • Rheumatoid arthritis may be caused by smoking.

Quitting and Reduced Risks

By quitting smoking, a person will experience immediate health benefits.

  • By remaining smoke-free for one year, the risk of heart attack begins to drop significantly.
  • The increased risk of stroke associated with smoking can be eliminated after remaining smoke-free for two to five years.
  • Within five years of quitting, the risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, and esophagus drops by 50%.
  • Ten years of being smoke-free reduces the risk of lung cancer by 50%.

Additional Information


The World Health Organization offers this fact sheet on tobacco use.

A New Death Toll for Smoking

This New York Times article explores the death rate among smokers.

Health Risks of Smoking

The American Cancer Society gives information on the health risks associated with smoking.

Smoking and Heart Disease

This page contains information from WebMD on the connection between smoking and heart disease.

CardioSmart: Smoking and Heart Disease

Learn more about the link between smoking and cardiovascular disease.

Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease

Find information on COPD from the American Lung Association here.

Smoking and Respiratory Diseases

The Johns Hopkins Medicine Health Library offers information on the link between smoking and respiratory diseases.

Establishment of a Strong Link Between Smoking and Cancer

Read a scientific study on the connection between smoking and the development of cancer.

Smoking-Related Cancers

A comprehensive list of the various cancers caused by smoking can be found here.

Smoking During Pregnancy

Learn about the pregnancy risks associated with smoking.