The Risks of Smoking -- and the Benefits of Quitting

Risks of Smoking

Benefits of Quitting

Shortened Life Expectancy

An average smoker can expect to live 8.3 fewer years than a nonsmoker (your actual risk is proportional to the number of packs and length of time you have smoked).

After 10 to 15 years, an ex-smoker's mortality rate approaches that of a person who has never smoked.

Heart Disease

Smokers are twice as likely to have a heart attack as nonsmokers, and five times more likely to die suddenly from a heart attack.

Increased risk decreases sharply one year after quitting smoking. After 10 years, an ex-smoker's risk approaches that of a person who has never smoked.

Peripheral Vascular Disease

Because it accelerates atherosclerosis (“hardening of the arteries”), smoking can impair blood circulation in the legs, which can lead to gangrene and amputation.

Risk decreases when the progression of atherosclerosis is slowed.

Lung Cancer

Cigarette smoking is responsible for nearly 85 percent of all lung cancers.

After 10 to 15 years, an ex-smoker's risk approaches that of a person who has never smoked.

Larynx Cancer

Smoking increases risk by up to 18 times that of a nonsmoker.

Risk gradually decreases, reaching normal after 10 years.

Mouth Cancer

Smokers have three to 10 times as many oral cancers as nonsmokers. Alcohol may magnify the risk. Pipe tobacco, cigars and snuff are also major contributors.

Reducing or eliminating smoking and drinking lowers risk in the first few years. Risk drops to the level of a nonsmoker in 10 to 15 years.

Cancer of the Esophagus

Smoking cigarettes, pipes or cigars increases by two to nine times the risk of dying from this cancer. Combining these with alcohol magnifies the risk.

Since risk is proportional to dose, reducing or eliminating smoking and drinking should lower the risk.

Cancer of the Bladder

A smoker's risk is seven to 10 times greater than a nonsmoker's, and increases further when combined with certain occupational exposures.

Risk decreases gradually over seven years to that of a nonsmoker.

Cancer of the Pancreas

The risk of dying from this cancer is two to five times higher for smokers than for nonsmokers.

Since risk appears related to dose, stopping smoking should reduce it.

Chronic Bronchitis and Emphysema

Smokers face four to 25 times greater risk of death from these diseases; lung damage occurs even in young smokers.

Within weeks of quitting, cough disappears. Lung function may improve and the rate of deterioration may slow down.

Stillbirth, Prematurity, Low Birth Weight and SIDS

Women who smoke have more stillbirths, more low-birth-weight babies, and more babies who are vulnerable to disease and death. A high proportion of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome babies had mothers who smoked.

Risk to the fetus is reduced if the mother quits smoking before the fourth month of pregnancy.

American Cancer Society