Smoking Fact Sheet

Provided by the American Lung Association

For more information, visit the American Lung Association at:

June, 2002

Smoking-related diseases claim an estimated 440,000 American lives each year, including those affected indirectly, such as babies born prematurely due to prenatal maternal smoking and some of the victims of "secondhand" exposure to tobacco's carcinogens. Smoking costs the United States approximately $150 billion each year in health-care costs and lost productivity.

  • Cigarettes contain at least 43 distinct cancer-causing chemicals. Smoking is directly responsible for 87 percent of lung cancer cases and causes most cases of emphysema and chronic bronchitis. Smoking is also a major factor in coronary heart disease and stroke: may be causally related to malignancies in other parts of the body; and has been linked to a variety of other conditions and disorders, including slowed healing of wounds, infertility, and peptic ulcer disease.
  • Smoking in pregnancy accounts for an estimated 20 to 30 percent of low-birth weight babies, up to 14 percent of pre-term deliveries, and some 10 percent of all infant deaths. Even apparently healthy, full-term babies of smokers have been found to be born with narrowed airways and curtailed lung function. Only about 30 percent of women who smoke stop smoking when they find they are pregnant; the proportion of quitters is highest among married women and women with higher levels of educational attainment. In 1999, 12.3 percent of women who gave birth smoked during pregnancy.
  • Smoking by parents is also associated with a wide range of adverse effects in their children, including exacerbation of asthma, increased frequency of colds and ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome. An estimated 150,000 to 300,000 cases of lower respiratory tract infections in children less than 18 months of age, resulting in 7,500 to 15,000 annual hospitalizations, are caused by secondhand smoke.
  • Secondhand smoke involuntarily inhaled by nonsmokers from other people's cigarettes is classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a known human (Group A) carcinogen, responsible for approximately 3,000 lung cancer deaths annually in U.S. nonsmokers.
  • Approximately 22.2 million American women are smokers. Current female smokers aged 35 years or older are 12 times more likely to die prematurely from lung cancer than nonsmoking females. More American women die annually from lung cancer than any other type of cancer; for example, lung cancer will cause an estimated 65,700 female deaths in 2002, compared with 39,600 estimated female deaths caused by breast cancer.
  • As smoking has declined among the White non-Hispanic population, tobacco companies have targeted both African Americans and Hispanics with intensive merchandising, which includes billboards, advertising in media targeted to those communities, and sponsorship of civic groups and athletic, cultural, and entertainment events.
  • The prevalence of smoking is highest among Native Americans/Alaskan Natives (40.89 percent), next highest among African Americans and whites (24.3 percent), followed by Hispanics (18.1 percent) and Asians and Pacific Islanders (15.1 percent).
  • Tobacco advertising plays an important role in encouraging young people to begin a lifelong addiction to smoking before they re old enough to fully understand its long-term health risk. It is estimated that 4.5 million U.S. teenagers are cigarette smokers; 22.4 percent of high school seniors smoke on a daily basis. Approximately 90 percent of smokers begin smoking before the age of 21.
  • Workplaces nationwide are going smoke-free to provide clean indoor air and protect employees from the life-threatening effects of secondhand smoke. Nearly 70 percent of the U.S. workforce worked under a smoke-free policy in 1999 but the percentage of workers protected varies by state, ranging from a high of 89.3 percent in Utah to 48.7 percent in Nevada.
  • Employers have a legal right to restrict smoking in the workplace, or implement a totally smoke-free workplace policy Exceptions may arise in the case of collective bargaining agreements with unions.
  • Nicotine is an addictive drug, which when inhaled in cigarette smoke reaches the brain faster than drugs that enter the body intravenously. Smokers become not only physically addicted to nicotine; they also link smoking with many social activities, making smoking a difficult habit to break.
  • In 1999, an estimated 45.7 million adults were former smokers. Of the current 46.5 million smokers, more than 32 million persons reported they wanted to quit smoking completely. Currently, both nicotine patches and nicotine gum are available over-the-counter. and a nicotine nasal spray and inhaler, as well as a non-nicotine pill, Zyban®, are currently available by prescription; all help relieve withdrawal symptoms people experience when they quit smoking. Nicotine replacement therapies are helpful in quitting when combined with a behavior change program such as the American Lung Association's Freedom From Smoking® (FFS), which addressees psychological and behavioral addictions to smoking and strategies for coping with urges to smoke.