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Tobacco Free Living

What is Smoking Doing to You?

Tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. Some people who smoke every day are smoking fewer cigarettes; however, even occasional smoking causes harm.

The percentage of American adults who smoke decreased from 20.9 percent in 2005 to 19.3 percent in 2010. That translates to 3 million fewer smokers than there would have been with no decline. But almost 1 in 5 adults still smoke.

Reducing tobacco use is a winnable battle — a public health priority with known, effective actions for success. A combination of smoke-free laws, cigarette price increases, access to proven quitting treatments and services, and hard-hitting media campaigns reduces health care costs and saves lives.

  • More than 443,000 Americans die of smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke each year, and millions of people still smoke.
  • For every smoking-related death, another 20 people suffer with a smoking-related disease.
  • In 2010, 19.3 perecnt of adults (or 45.3 million) smoked cigarettes, compared with 20.9% of adults in 2005.
  • Smoking costs the U.S. about $96 billion each year in direct medical costs and $97 billion from productivity losses due to premature death. There is no safe level of smoking.
  • Each cigarette you smoke damages your lungs, your blood vessels, and cells throughout your body.
  • Even occasional smoking is harmful, and the best option for any smoker is to quit completely.
  • The more years you smoke, the more you damage your body. Quitting at any age has benefits.
  • A majority of Americans who have ever smoked have already quit; you can too.

What's the most effective way to quit smoking?

  • Different ways work for different people. Many smokers have to try multiple times before they're able to quit for good. It is important to keep trying until you succeed; each time you learn something that will help you quit for good.
  • While you're trying to quit, nicotine and non-nicotine containing medications can help lessen the urge to smoke. Talk to your health care provider for help.
  • Individual, group, or telephone counseling can double your likelihood of success. A combination of medication and counseling is more effective than medication or counseling alone.
  • Smokers can receive free resources and assistance to help them quit by calling 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) or visiting

Here's What Works

Tobacco users can:

  • Quit. The sooner you quit, the sooner your body can begin to heal, and the less likely you are to get sick from tobacco use.
  • Ask a health care provider for help quitting and call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) for free assistance.
  • Find a step-by-step quit guide at

Parents and nonsmokers can:

  • Make your home and vehicles smoke-free.
  • Not start, if you aren't already using tobacco.
  • Quit if you smoke; children of parents who smoke are twice as likely to become smokers.
  • Teach children about the health risks of smoking and secondhand smoke.
  • Encourage friends, family, and coworkers to quit.

Employers can:

  • Establish a policy banning the use of any tobacco product indoors or outdoors on company property by anyone at any time.
  • Provide all employees and their dependents with health insurance that covers support for quitting with little or no co-payment.

Retailers can:

  • Learn the new Food and Drug Administration (FDA) restrictions on youth access to tobacco products and tobacco marketing to youth, and closely follow them.
  • Never sell any tobacco product to customers younger than 18 years of age (or 19 in states with a higher minimum age requirement).
  • Check the photo ID of any customer trying to buy tobacco products who appears to be 26 years of age or younger.


What is Smoking Doing to Your Loved One?

Secondhand smoke is a mixture of gases and fine particles that includes:

  • Smoke from a burning cigarette, cigar, or pipe tip
  • Smoke that has been exhaled or breathed out by the person or people smoking
  • More than 7,000 chemicals, including hundreds that are toxic and about 70 that can cause cancer

Most exposure to secondhand smoke occurs in homes and workplaces. Secondhand smoke exposure also continues to occur in public places such as restaurants, bars, and casinos and in private vehicles.

In children, secondhand smoke causes the following:

  • Ear infections
  • More frequent and severe asthma attacks
  • Respiratory symptoms (e.g., coughing, sneezing, shortness of breath)
  • Respiratory infections (i.e., bronchitis, pneumonia)
  • A greater risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

In adults who have never smoked, secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and/or lung cancer

Heart Disease

  • For non-smokers, breathing secondhand smoke has immediate harmful effects on the cardiovascular system that can increase the risk for heart attack. People who already have heart disease are at especially high risk.
  • Non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their heart disease risk by 25 to 30 percent.
  • Secondhand smoke exposure causes an estimated 46,000 heart disease deaths annually among adult nonsmokers in the United States.

Lung Cancer

  • Non-smokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their lung cancer risk by 20 to 30 percent.
  • Secondhand smoke exposure causes an estimated 3,400 lung cancer deaths annually among adult nonsmokers in the United States.

When a non-smoker breathes in secondhand smoke, the body begins to metabolize or break down the nicotine that was in the smoke. During this process, a nicotine byproduct called cotinine is created. Exposure to nicotine and secondhand smoke can be measured by testing saliva, urine, or blood for the presence of cotinine.

Racial and Ethnic Groups

Although declines in cotinine levels have occurred in all racial and ethnic groups, cotinine levels have consistently been found to be higher in non-Hispanic black Americans than in non-Hispanic white Americans and Mexican Americans. In 2007–08:

  • 55.9 percent of non-Hispanic blacks were exposed to secondhand smoke
  • 40.1 percent of non-Hispanic whites were exposed to secondhand smoke
  • 28.5 percent of Mexican Americans were exposed to secondhand smoke

Low Income

Secondhand smoke exposure tends to be high for persons with low incomes: 60.5 percent of persons living below the poverty level in the United States were exposed to secondhand smoke in 2007–08.

Occupational Disparities

Occupational disparities in secondhand smoke exposure decreased over the past two decades, but substantial differences in exposure among workers remain. African-American male workers, construction workers, and blue collar workers and service workers are among some of the groups who continue to experience particularly high levels of secondhand smoke exposure relative to other workers.


Did You Know What Smoke Contains?

  • Naphthalene (mothball chemical)
  • Benzene (gasoline additive)
  • Arsenic (poison)
  • Cadmium (component in batteries)
  • Hexamine (ingredient in explosives)
  • Stearic acid (candle wax)
  • Carbon monoxide (car exhaust)
  • Butane (cigareet lighter fuel)
  • Ammonia (household cleaner)
  • Vinyl chloride (component of PVC pipe
  • Nitrous oxide (car power booster)
  • Acrolein (pesticide)

Other substances found in tobacco smoke include:

  • Acetic acid (vinegar)
  • Acetone (nail polish remover)
  • Formaldehyde (embalming fluid)
  • Hydrogen cyanide (chemical weapon)
  • Mercury (toxic pollutant)
  • Methanol (rocket fuel)
  • Nicotine (addictive drug)
  • Toluene (paint thinner)