The Tragedy of Smoking

Smoking harms every part of the body – there is no organ it does not touch. It causes many diseases. It reduces the quality and enjoyment of life and also reduces the length of time a smoker can expect to live.

Smoking has a devastating effect on the individual, their family and friends. Yet around 6,000 children under the age of 18 start smoking every day; about 2,000 of these will become regular smokers. That’s almost 800,000 a year. It is estimated that at least 4.5 million adolescents smoke in the United States, and about 90 percent of smokers start smoking before age 21. Smoking during childhood and adolescence causes significant health problems. These problems include cough and sputum production, increased number and severity of respiratory diseases, decreased physical fitness, an unfavorable blood lipid profile, and potential regression in lung growth rate and maximal lung function. An estimated 440,000 Americans die each year from diseases caused by smoking.

It is estimated that 364,000 patients are admitted to hospitals each year in the UK for diseases caused by smoking. That’s 7,000 or 1,000 hospitalizations per week. For every death caused by smoking, about 20 smokers develop a smoking-related disease. In 1997/98, smoking caused an estimated 480,000 patients to refer to their GP for heart disease, 20,000 for stroke, and about 600,000 for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Half of all current smokers will die from diseases caused by secondhand smoke if they continue to smoke. A quarter will die before age 70 and will lose an average of 21 years. It is estimated that between 1950 and 2000, six million Britons, 60 million people worldwide, died from tobacco-related diseases. One in two long-term smokers will die prematurely as a result of smoking – half of them are in middle age. Most die from one of the three main diseases associated with smoking: lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (bronchitis and emphysema), and coronary heart disease.

In the UK, deaths from smoking are five times higher than 22,833 deaths from: traffic accidents (3,439); poisoning and overdose (881); alcoholic liver disease (5,121); other accidental deaths (8,579); murder and manslaughter (513); suicide (4,066); and HIV infection (234). About 5 million people worldwide die prematurely every year due to smoking.

In addition, smokers are at greater risk of developing many medical conditions than non-smokers that are not fatal but can cause years of debilitating illness or other problems. These conditions include:

Acute necrotizing ulcerative gingivitis (gum disease)

Angina (20 x risk)

Back pain

Buerger’s Disease (severe circulatory disease)

Cataract (2 x risk)

Cataract, posterior subcapsular (3 x risk)

colon polyps

Crohn’s Disease (chronic inflamed bowel)


Diabetes (Type 2, non-insulin dependent)

duodenal ulcer

Hearing loss

Impotence (2 x risk)


ligament injuries

Macular degeneration (eyes, 2 x risk)

muscle injuries

Neck pain

Nystagmus (abnormal eye movements)

Ocular Histoplasmosis (fungal eye infection)

Optic Neuropathy (vision loss, 16 x risk)


Osteoporosis (in both sexes)

Penis (erectile dysfunction)

peripheral vascular disease


Psoriasis (2 x risk)

Rheumatoid arthritis (for heavy smokers)

Skin wrinkling (2 x risk)

Stomach ulcer

Tendon injuries

Tobacco Amblyopia (vision loss)

tooth loss


This means that the smoker has circulatory, hearing, vision, joint, muscle, sexual, digestive, lung, skin and other problems – not a pretty picture. This list does not include the various types of cancer that smokers are prone to – cancers of the mouth, esophagus, bladder, kidney, pancreas, stomach, and leukemia. Nor is it on the list that circulatory problems can lead to gangrene (death of tissues) that requires amputation. There are also impaired functions in smokers. These include:

Ejaculation (volume reduced)

Fertility (30% lower in women)

Immune System (impaired)

Menopause (average 1.74 years early onset)

Sperm count decreased

Sperm less able to penetrate the egg

Sperm motility is impaired

Sperm shape abnormalities increased

The life of a smoker is not easy. The suffering and illness caused by smoking are severe. The only way to ensure that you do not experience this pain and suffering is to not smoke. If you currently smoke, you should quit. Quitting isn’t easy – but you don’t have to handle the quitting process alone – you can get guidance, support and help.


Morbidity attributable to smoking – United States, 2000. MMWR Weekly Report, September 5, 2003.

Cigarettes: What the warning label doesn’t tell you. American Council on Science and Health, 1997.

Mortality statistics 2002., Office for National Statistics, 2002; Scottish General Register Office, 2002; Secretary General Northern Ireland, Annual Report, Agency for Statistics and Research, 2002.

Nicotine Addiction in the UK. A report of the Royal College of Physicians Tobacco Advisory Group. RCP, 2000 (for percentage of smoking-related deaths).

Mortality statistics 2002., Office for National Statistics, 2002; Scottish General Register Office, 2002; Secretary General Northern Ireland, Annual Report, Agency for Statistics and Research, 2002.

Peto R. Smoking-related mortality: 40 years’ observations on British male physicians. BMJ 1994; 309: 901-911.

World Health Report 2003. World Health Organization, 2003.

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