List of Organs Damaged by Smoking Expanded

Smoking now kills 440,000 Americans annually  

One of the FDA's cigarette warning labels depicting the negative health consequences of smoking.
One of the FDA's cigarette warning labels depicting the negative health consequences of smoking. U.S. Food and Drug Administration

Smoking causes diseases in nearly every organ of the body, according to a comprehensive report on smoking and health from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

Published 40 years after the surgeon general's first report on smoking -- which concluded that smoking was a definite cause of three serious diseases -- this newest report finds that cigarette smoking is conclusively linked to diseases such as leukemia, cataracts, pneumonia, and cancers of the cervix, kidney, pancreas, and stomach.

"We've known for decades that smoking is bad for your health, but this report shows that it's even worse than we knew," said U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona in a press release. "The toxins from cigarette smoke go everywhere the blood flows. I'm hoping this new information will help motivate people to quit smoking and convince young people not to start in the first place."

According to the report, smoking kills an estimated 440,000 Americans each year. On average, men who smoke cut their lives short by 13.2 years, and female smokers lose 14.5 years. The economic toll exceeds $157 billion each year in the United States -- $75 billion in direct medical costs and $82 billion in lost productivity.

"We need to cut smoking in this country and around the world," HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson said. "Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death and disease, costing us too many lives, too many dollars, and too many tears. If we are going to be serious about improving health and preventing disease we must continue to drive down tobacco use. And we must prevent our youth from taking up this dangerous habit."

In 1964, the Surgeon General's report announced medical research showing that smoking was a definite cause of cancers of the lung and larynx (voice box) in men and chronic bronchitis in both men and women. Later reports concluded that smoking causes a number of other diseases such as cancers of the bladder, esophagus, mouth, and throat; cardiovascular diseases; and reproductive effects. The report, The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General, expands the list of illness and conditions linked to smoking. The new illnesses and diseases are cataracts, pneumonia, acute myeloid leukemia, abdominal aortic aneurysm, stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer, cervical cancer, kidney cancer and periodontitis.

Statistics indicate that more than 12 million Americans have died from smoking since the 1964 report of the surgeon general, and another 25 million Americans alive today will most likely die of a smoking-related illness.

The report's release comes in advance of World No Tobacco Day, an annual event on May 31 that focuses global attention on the health hazards of tobacco use. The goals of World No Tobacco Day are to raise awareness about the dangers of tobacco use, encourage people not to use tobacco, motivate users to quit and encourage countries to implement comprehensive tobacco control programs.

Impacts of Smoking on Overall Health

The report concludes that smoking reduces the overall health of smokers, contributing to such conditions as hip fractures, complications from diabetes, increased wound infections following surgery, and a wide range of reproductive complications. For every premature death caused each year by smoking, there are at least 20 smokers living with a serious smoking-related illness.

Another major conclusion, consistent with recent findings of other scientific studies, is that smoking so-called low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes does not offer any health benefit over smoking regular or "full-flavor" cigarettes.

"There is no safe cigarette, whether it is called 'light,' ultra-light,' or any other name," Dr. Carmona said. "The science is clear: the only way to avoid the health hazards of smoking is to quit completely or to never start smoking."

The report concludes that quitting smoking has immediate and long-term benefits, reducing risks for diseases caused by smoking and improving health in general. "Within minutes and hours after smokers inhale that last cigarette, their bodies begin a series of changes that continue for years," Dr. Carmona said. "Among these health improvements are a drop in heart rate, improved circulation, and reduced risk of heart attack, lung cancer, and stroke. By quitting smoking today a smoker can assure a healthier tomorrow."

Dr. Carmona said it is never too late to stop smoking. Quitting smoking at age 65 or older reduces by nearly 50 percent a person's risk of dying of a smoking-related disease.

Unexpected Organs Damaged by Smoking

Aside from the major organs—heart, lungs, brain, stomach, etc.—cigarette smoking and excessive exposure to secondhand smoke can cause damage to some unexpected parts of the body, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).

Ears: By reducing the flow of oxygen to the cochlea, a snail-shaped organ in the inner ear, smoking can damage the cochlea, resulting in mild to moderate hearing loss.  

Eyes: Besides increasing the risk of blindness from cataracts, nicotine from cigarettes reduces the body’s ability to produce the chemical necessary for being able to see at night, especially dangerous when driving after dark.

Mouth: Long known for causing disfiguring and potentially fatal oral cancers, cigarette smoke is now known to cause smokers to have more mouth sores, ulcers and gum diseases than non-smokers. In addition, smokers are more likely to have tooth decay and lose their teeth at a younger age.

Skin and Face: By causing the skin to become dry and lose its elasticity, smoking can lead to stretch marks and wrinkles. By their early 30s, many regular smokers have already developed deep wrinkles around their mouth and eyes. According to the NHLBI, quitting smoking can protect the skin from premature aging.