Smoking cigarettes can kill you, but before you die, you could experience some pretty terrible diseases and health conditions from smoking. Here are some of the most gruesome diseases caused by smoking*:
1. Lung Cancer
More people die from lung cancer than any other type of cancer. Cigarette smoking is the number one risk factor for lung cancer; it's responsible for close to 90% of lung cancer cases. Your chance of still being alive five years after being diagnosed is about 1 in 5.
2. COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
COPD is an obstructive lung disease that makes it hard to breathe. It causes serious long-term disability and early death. COPD starts by making it hard to be active, such as playing with a grandchild, then usually gets worse, until climbing a short set of stairs or even walking to get the mail is exhausting or impossible. It can leave people stuck in their homes, unable to do the things they want or see friends. About 85% to 90% of all COPD is caused by cigarette smoking. COPD is the sixth leading cause of death in the United States.
3. Heart Disease
Smoking harms nearly every organ in your body, including your heart. Smoking can cause blockages and narrowing in your arteries, which means less blood and oxygen flow to your heart. When cigarette consumption in the U.S. decreased, so did the rates of heart disease. Yet, heart disease remains the number one cause of death in the U.S.
Because smoking affects your arteries, it can trigger stroke. A stroke happens when the blood supply to your brain is temporarily blocked. Brain cells are deprived of oxygen and start to die. A stroke can cause paralysis, slurred speech, altered brain function and death. Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States and a leading cause of adult disability.
Asthma is a chronic lung disease that makes it harder to move air in and out of your lungs—otherwise known as "breathing." Because cigarette smoke irritates air passages, it can trigger sudden and severe asthma attacks. Asthma is a serious health condition that affects more than 25 million Americans. Smoking only makes it worse.
6. Reproductive Effects in Women
Smoking can cause ectopic pregnancy, which is when a fertilized egg implants somewhere other than the uterus. The egg can't survive and, if left untreated, can be life-threatening for the pregnant person. Smoking also causes reduced fertility, meaning it makes it more difficult to get pregnant.
7. Premature, Low Birth-Weight Babies
The effects of smoking not only impact the parent's health, but also that of the baby. Smoking while pregnant can cause babies to be born prematurely and/or with a low birth-weight. Babies born too early or too small have increased risk of health complications and even death.
You're more likely to get type 2 diabetes if you smoke. People who smoke cigarettes are 30% to 40% more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than people who don't smoke. Additionally, smoking increases the risk of complications once diagnosed with diabetes, such as heart and kidney disease, poor blood flow to legs and feet (which leads to infections and possible amputation), blindness and nerve damage.
9. Blindness, Cataracts and Age-Related Macular Degeneration
Smoking can make you go blind. It damages your eyes and can result in vision loss. Age-related macular degeneration is caused by smoking. It is the leading cause of blindness in adults ages 65 and older.
10. Over 10 Other Types of Cancer, Including Colon, Cervix, Liver, Stomach and Pancreatic Cancer
Basically, all the cancers. For both cancer patients and survivors, those who smoke are more likely to develop a second primary cancer. And now we know that smoking causes at least a dozen cancers, including liver and colorectal, and reduces the survival rates for prostate cancer patients.
*For a more complete list of the diseases caused by smoking, check out the 2014 Surgeon General's Report - Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 years of Progress
Source: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking–50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General
Page last updated: January 23, 2023