Health Effects of Tobacco/Smoking

Smoking tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable disease and death in Canada.

As most people know, it has negative health effects on nearly every organ in the body. Half of all long term users will die of a tobacco related illness. Smokers are more likely than non-smokers to develop heart disease, stroke and lung cancer. Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death and most cases (85-90%) are caused by smoking. There are also a number of other types of cancer linked to smoking including cancer of the mouth, throat, voice box, and esophagus. Research also demonstrates that smoking tobacco is a contributing cause of leukemia, and cancers of the bladder, stomach, kidney and pancreas. Visit the US Centre for Disease Control website to see a diagram of the human body with health conditions linked to smoking.

Smoking also increases the risk of developing a respiratory illness such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), which is a term that includes both emphysema and chronic bronchitis. In 80-90% of cases, emphysema is caused by smoking. The Ontario Lung Association has more information on asthma and other respiratory conditions caused by or irritated by smoking. Smokers are 12-13 times more likely to die from COPD than non-smokers. While there is no cure for COPD, quitting smoking can greatly improve one’s breathing and overall quality of life for someone with this chronic illness.

There are additional risks for both a pregnant woman and her fetus if she smoking during her pregnancy. Pregnant women who smoke are at increased risk for:

  • Early delivery
  • Stillbirth (death of the baby before birth)
  • Low birth weight
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (known as SIDS or crib death)
  • Ectopic pregnancy
  • Orofacial clefts in infants

Nicotine is the addictive ingredient in tobacco that makes it difficult for smokers to quit. Nicotine is present in all forms of tobacco including cigarettes, chew and cigars. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health has lots more information on nicotine and addiction. Using nicotine replacement therapy can help smokers quit by managing cravings and decreasing withdrawal symptoms.