The Asthma Center

Cigarette smoking

Cigarette smoking has become a major cause of illness and death among Americans. At this time, it appears to be the number one preventable health problem. In fact about 400,000 Americans die each year as a result of tobacco use. Almost 100,000 of these 400,000 deaths result from COPD and related lung diseases that are a direct consequence of smoking. Further the vast majority of lung cancers are also a direct result of cigarette smoking or passive exposure to second hand cigarette smoke.

Passive exposure to second hand cigarette smoke is a major, yet hidden, health issue for much of the unsuspecting population. Cigarette smoke contains more than 6,000 compounds, some of which are clearly carcinogenic (cancer causing) and can cause cell mutation (changes in normal cell characteristics). These compounds can ultimately lead to significant medical problems (e.g. chronic lung disease, cancer, emphysema, asthma and heart disease). Many of these compounds are derived from the tobacco leaf or from the processing of tobacco and the manufacturing of cigarettes, while others result from the burning of the processed tobacco and paper when smoking the cigarettes.

Although cigarette smoking has decreased from 40% to 25% of the population over the past four decades, tobacco related disease is still the most important preventable public health problem in the United States. In spite of widespread knowledge about the relationship between smoking and disease, tens of millions of people continue to smoke due to addiction.

Cigarette smoking is highly addictive, as seen in the symptoms of withdrawal from its use and the drug seeking behavior of its users. It appears that nicotine addiction is related to its pharmacokinetic effects on the central nervous system. Smoking allows for rapid uptake of nicotine. Concentration of nicotine in the brain rapidly increases, leading to a noticeable psychoactive effect that stimulates addiction to smoking.

Statistics indicate that most people in the United States become addicted to cigarettes during adolescence. Most teenagers who begin smoking initially do it on an occasional basis. However over a period of 8 - 10 years (or sooner), it often evolves into a regular habit as they become addicted. Individuals that do not smoke before the age of 20 are much less likely to become addicted. Once a person is fully addicted, his/her tobacco consumption usually remains stable, unless he/she is stressed. If the number of cigarettes is restricted, the smoker will actually inhale each cigarette more deeply in order to maintain the same nicotine level.

Other diseases linked to smoking

Cigarette smoking cessation

Passive cigarette smoke exposure