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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Tobacco Health Toll



With the increasing realization of the devastating effects tobacco use has, and the heavy toll it exacts on the health of individuals, the health of the young, the wellbeing of families and societies, and the economies of countries, the need for a clear, comprehensive document covering the full range of the negative effects tobacco and its use has on human health was apparent. This publication sums up and simplifies the answers to the questions that the public, individuals and special groups have, and is intended to fill the wide but often underestimated gap in the public’s knowledge concerning the vast spectrum of tobacco-related health hazards. It is expected therefore, that this publication will be of interest to people from all walks of life, including school and university students, physicians and nurses, as well as the public in general.

Tobacco and tobacco smoke contain thousands of chemicals. Many of these chemicals are well known to be toxic, carcinogenic, atherogenic, teratogenic and addictive; many have no known safe level of exposure. The chemicals found in tobacco and tobacco smoke include nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, acetaldehyde, hydrogen cyanides, arsenic, chromium, DDT, formaldehyde, benzene, N-nitrosamines, cadmium, nickel, beryllium and vinyl chloride.

Globally, one person dies from tobacco use every 6.5 seconds; tobacco kills around 5 million smokers each year, or the equivalent of 13 699 people per day. This is in addition to the suffering caused through tobacco-related diseases and the burden of disease on individuals, families and society as a whole.

Studies have shown that people who start smoking in their teens (as more than 70% do), and continue to do so for two decades or more will die 20–25 years earlier than those who have never smoked, thus losing some of the most productive years of their lives. Lung cancer and heart disease are two of the most common health problems encountered by smokers, but the general public is largely unaware that there are a wide range of other diseases and ill-effects associated with tobacco use which are not as widely publicized. This publication lists the range of diseases and illnesses caused through smoking, and shows how the harmful effects of smoking can damage nearly every organ and system in the human body.

Women and smoking deserve special attention as a result of the negative and serious health impacts on smoking women and their offspring, in addition to particular health concerns related to the use of contraceptives and women’s frequent involuntary exposure to environmental tobacco smoke.

Children, who represent the building blocks of the future, are a large and significant segment of the population who are involuntarily exposed to the harm that tobacco can cause. Society needs to acknowledge the harm that environmental tobacco smoke exposure causes to the health of children and exert efforts to protect them from exposure to this smoke. The importance of cessation and reduced exposure to tobacco smoke cannot be overemphasized. Adults need to abstain from tobacco use, not only to protect themselves, but to protect the young and future generations from falling prey to deadly tobacco-related diseases. It is also important to raise public awareness of the fact that modifications made to the shape, intensity and flavour of tobacco products is just the tobacco industry’s way of masking the truth about the deadly effects of tobacco use. The issue of environmental tobacco smoke has been an arena of intense struggle between health advocates and the tobacco industry as it affects smokers and non-smokers alike, but also because it addresses more directly the question of choice when faced with the health hazards caused through tobacco. This issue has the greatest potential to shape the outcome of tobacco control efforts.

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