Drug Facts – Cigarettes


Smoking harms nearly every organ of the body, causing many diseases and affecting the health of smokers in general. Quitting smoking has immediate as well as long-term benefits for you and your loved ones.

The Burden of Tobacco Use

Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million have a serious illness caused by smoking. Despite these risks, approximately 46 million U.S. adults smoke cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco, cigars, and pipes also have deadly consequences, including lung, larynx, esophageal, and oral cancers.

The harmful effects of smoking do not end with the smoker. More than 126 million nonsmoking Americans, including children and adults, are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. Even brief exposure can be dangerous because nonsmokers inhale many of the same carcinogens and toxins in cigarette smoke as smokers.

Secondhand smoke exposure causes serious disease and death, including heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and more frequent and severe asthma attacks in children. Each year, primarily because of exposure to secondhand smoke, an estimated 3,000 nonsmoking Americans die of lung cancer, more than 46,000 die of heart disease, and about 150,000–300,000 children younger than 18 months have lower respiratory tract infections.

Coupled with this enormous health toll is the significant economic burden of tobacco use—more than $96 billion per year in medical expenditures and another $97 billion per year resulting from lost productivity.

The Tobacco Use Epidemic Can Be Stopped

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) report, Ending the Tobacco Problem: A Blueprint for the Nation, presents a plan to “reduce smoking so substantially that it is no longer a public health problem for our nation.” Foremost among the IOM recommendations is that each state should fund a comprehensive tobacco control program at the level recommended by CDC in Best Practices for Comprehensive Tobacco Control Program–2007, a guide to help states plan and establish effective tobacco control programs to prevent and reduce tobacco use.

Evidence-based, statewide tobacco control programs that are comprehensive, sustained, and accountable have been shown to reduce smoking rates, tobacco-related deaths, and diseases caused by smoking. A comprehensive program is a coordinated effort to establish smoke-free policies and social norms, promote cessation, help tobacco users quit, and prevent initiation of tobacco use. This approach combines educational, clinical, regulatory, economic, and social strategies.

Research has documented the effectiveness of laws and policies to protect the public from secondhand smoke exposure, promote cessation, and prevent initiation when they are applied in a comprehensive way. For example, states can

  • Increase the unit price of tobacco products.
  • Implement smoke-free policies, regulations, and laws.
  • Provide insurance coverage of tobacco-use treatment.
  • Limit minors’ access to tobacco products.

CDC’s Response

The CDC is the lead federal agency for tobacco control. CDC’s Office on Smoking and Health provides national leadership for a comprehensive, broad-based approach to reducing tobacco use. A variety of government agencies, professional and voluntary organizations, and academic institutions have joined together to advance this approach, which involves the following:

  • Preventing young people from starting to smoke.
  • Eliminating exposure to secondhand smoke.
  • Promoting quitting among young people and adults.
  • Identifying and eliminating tobacco-related health disparities.

Essential elements of this comprehensive approach include state-based, community-based, and health-system-based interventions; cessation services; counter-marketing; policy development and implementation; surveillance; and evaluation. These activities target groups who are at highest risk for tobacco-related health problems.

CDC also promotes MPOWER, which is a package of six proven policies identified by the World Health Organization that can help reduce tobacco use and tobacco-related illness and death.

Monitor tobacco use and prevention policies.
Protect people from tobacco smoke.
Offer help to quit tobacco use.
Warn about the dangers of tobacco.
Enforce bans on tobacco advertising.
Raise taxes on tobacco.

Taken from the Office on Smoking and Health (OSH of the CDC).