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Health Effects of Smoking

Cigarette smoking is the number one cause of preventable disease and death worldwide. Smoking-related diseases claim more than 480,000 American lives each year. Smoking cost the U.S. at least $289 billion each year, including at least $150 billion in lost productivity and $130 billion in direct healthcare expenditures.1 This is an average of close to $7,000 per adult smoker.1

Key Facts about Smoking

  • Cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals, at least 69 of which are known to cause cancer.2 Smoking is directly responsible for approximately 90 percent of lung cancer deaths and approximately 80 percent of deaths caused by chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), including emphysema and chronic bronchitis.3
  • Among adults who have ever smoked daily, 87 percent had tried their first cigarette by the time they were 18 years of age, and 95 percent had by age 21.1
  • Among current smokers, chronic lung disease accounts for 73 percent of smoking-related conditions. Even among smokers who have quit, chronic lung disease still accounts for 50 percent of smoking-related conditions.4
  • Smoking harms nearly every organ in the body, and is a main cause of lung cancer and COPD. It also is a cause of coronary heart disease, stroke and a host of other cancers and diseases.1

Smoking Rates among Adults & Youth

  • In 2015, an estimated 36.5 million, or 15.1 percent of adults 18 years of age and older were current smokers.5
  • Men tend to smoke more than women. In 2015, 16.7 percent of men currently smoked compared to 13.6 percent of women.5
  • Prevalence of current smoking in 2015 was highest among American Indians/Alaska Natives (21.9 percent), non-Hispanic whites (16.6 percent) and non-Hispanic blacks (16.8 percent) , and was lowest among Hispanics (10.1 percent) and Asian-Americans (7.0 percent).5
  • In 2015, 9.3 percent of high school students and 2.3 percent of middle school students were current cigarette users.6

Facts about Quitting Smoking

  • Nicotine is the chemical in cigarettes that causes addiction. Smokers not only become physically addicted to nicotine; they also link smoking with many social activities, making smoking an extremely difficult addiction to break.7
  • In 2015, an estimated 52.8 million adults were former smokers. Of the 36.5 million current adult smokers, 49.2 percent stopped smoking for a day or more in the preceding year because they were trying to quit smoking completely.5
  • Quitting smoking for good often requires multiple attempts. Using counseling or medication alone increases the chance of a quit attempt being successful; the combination of both is even more effective.8
  • There are seven medications approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to aid in quitting smoking. Nicotine patches, nicotine gum and nicotine lozenges are available over the counter, and a nicotine nasal spray and inhaler are currently available by prescription. Buproprion SR (Zyban®) and varenicline (Chantix®) are non-nicotine pills.8
  • Individual, group and telephone counseling are effective. Telephone quitline counseling is available in all 50 states and is effective for many different groups of smokers.8

Learn about the American Lung Association’s programs to help you or a loved one quit smoking, and join our advocacy efforts to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke. Visit or call the Lung HelpLine at 1-800-LUNGUSA (1-800-586-4872).

  • Sources
    1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking - 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General. 2014.
    2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease A Report of the Surgeon General.
    3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health Effects of Cigarette Smoking Fact Sheet. 2014.
    4. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General, 2004.
    5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. National Health Interview Survey, 2015. Analysis performed by the American Lung Association Epidemiology and Statistics Unit using SPSS software.
    6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco Use Among Middle and High School Students — United States, 2011–2014. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. April 17, 2015; 64(14):381-5.
    7. National Institute on Drug Abuse. Tobacco/Nicotine Research Report: Is Nicotine Addictive? 2012.
    8. National Health Interview Survey Raw Data, 2012. Analysis by the American Lung Association Epidemiology and Statistics Unit Using SPSS Software.
    9. Fiore M, Jaen C, Baker T, et al. Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update. Clinical Practice Guideline. Vol 35. Rockville, MD; 2008.

    Page Last Updated: October 9, 2017

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