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Tobacco is the only product in the U.S. that causes death and disability when used as intended — the single, most preventable cause of death in the U.S.1
Every year, tobacco use kills more Americans than World War II and the Vietnam War combined. That’s more than 440,000 smoking-related deaths every year — the equivalent of three 747s being downed every day without any survivors.2
Nicotine is a clear, naturally occurring liquid found in several species of plants, including tobacco and, perhaps surprisingly, in tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants (though in extremely low quantities that are pharmacologically insignificant for humans). A poisonous alkaloid, nicotine at high dosages has been used in everything from insecticides to darts designed to bring down elephants.4
If it weren’t for nicotine, people wouldn’t smoke tobacco. Why? Of more than 4,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, nicotine is the primary one that acts on the brain — altering people’s moods, appetites, and alertness in ways they find pleasant and beneficial.8
Nicotine has a well-known dark side: It’s highly addictive. Once hooked, smokers must get a regular fix, sometimes several dozen times a day.4
Breaking the addiction is not easy. Each year, nearly 35 million people make a concerted effort to quit smoking. Less than 7% succeed in abstaining for more than a year — most start smoking again within days.4
The harmful effects of smoking do not end with the smoker. The largest review to date examined 50 studies on secondhand smoke, and concludes that secondhand smoke causes cancer of the lung, uterus, cervix, liver, and kidneys.
The EPA ranks secondhand smoke in the same harmful category as asbestos, radon and benezene. It is also a major cause of children’s illness — yet 85% of adults who smoke and who live with a child do not ensure that the child is not exposed to the smoke from their cigarettes.
The body’s response to nicotine is immediate — causing short-term increases in blood pressure, heart rate, and blood flow from the heart. Nicotine also causes arteries to narrow,5 while carbon monoxide reduces the amount of oxygen the blood can carry — two side effects which create an imbalance in the demand for oxygen by the cells and the amount of oxygen the blood is able to supply.6
Smoking can cause chronic lung disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke, as well as cancer of the lungs, larynx, esophagus, mouth, and bladder.7 Smoking is also known to contribute to cancer of the cervix, pancreas, and kidneys.8
Smokeless tobacco and cigars also have deadly consequences — including lung, larynx, esophageal, and oral cancer.
1 National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention & Health Promotion
2 Nicotine: An Instrument of Death, Discovery Health, 2003
3 National Survey On Drug Use & Health, SAMHSA, 2003
4 The Search For A Safe Cigarette, NOVA (PBS), October 2001
5 Nicotine Addiction, American Heart Association, 2005
6 23 Tips To Keep In Mind, Partnership For A Drug-Free America, 2005
7 Tobacco, National Conference of State Legislatures, 2005
8 The Burden of Tobacco, Univ. of Medicine & Dentistry New Jersey, March 2005
- Public Smoking Ban Slashes Heart Attacks
- Protecting people from toxins in second-hand smoke immediately starts saving lives, according to a new study that shows smoke-free policies rapidly reduce heart attacks, as well as having long-term benefits.
- Tobacco-Control Programs Reduce Cigarette Sales
- New research shows that comprehensive tobacco-control programs are effective in reducing cigarette sales.