Health Library
Smoking Risks

Last Updated 06/2022

What Are Risks of Smoking?

Diseases caused by smoking kill more than 480,000 people in the United States each year. Even with anti-smoking campaigns and medical disclaimers in place, many people continue to smoke or start smoking every year. According to the American Cancer Society, 90 percent of new smokers are children and teenagers, in many cases, replacing the smokers who quit or died prematurely from a smoking-related disease.

Smokers not only have increased risk of lung disease, including lung cancer and emphysema, but also have increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and oral cancer.

Facts About Smoking and Teens

Consider the latest statistics available from the American Lung Association and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC):

  • Every day, almost 2,500 children under 18 years of age try their first cigarette. More than 400 of them will become new, regular daily smokers.
  • In 2015, 9.3% of high school students reported smoking cigarettes in the last 30 days, down 74% from 36.4% in 1997 when rates peaked after increasing throughout the first half of the 1990s.
  • In 2015, 2.3% of middle school students smoked cigarettes in the last 30 days.
  • Rates of overall tobacco use remain high. In 2015, 25.3% of high school students and 7.4% of middle school students used a tobacco product.
  • Among high school students in 2015, the most prevalent forms of tobacco used were electronic cigarettes (16%), cigarettes (9.3%), cigars (8.6%), and hookah (7.2%).

Smoking and the Cardiovascular System

  • Causes immediate and long-term increases in blood pressure
  • Causes immediate and long-term increases in heart rate
  • Reduces cardiac output and coronary blood flow
  • Reduces the amount of oxygen that reaches the body's tissues
  • Changes the properties of blood vessels and blood cells - allowing cholesterol and other fatty substances to build up (accumulate)
  • Contributes to higher blood pressure and increased risk of blot clot formation
  • Damages blood vessels
  • Doubles the risk of ischemic stroke (reduced blood flow to the brain)

In addition, smoking has been associated with depression and psychological distress.

Risks of Secondhand Smoke

The American Heart Association estimates indicate that approximately 41,000 people die each year from heart and blood vessel disease caused by secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is smoke that is exhaled by smokers and smoke emitted from the burning end of a lit cigarette, cigar, or pipe.

Both direct and indirect smoking exposure poses significant health hazards to pregnant women, infants, and young children. Children and infants exposed to tobacco smoke are more likely to experience ear infections and asthma, and are at a higher risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than children and infants without the same exposure.

The following common symptoms may be associated with exposure to secondhand smoke. However, each individual may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:

  • Irritation of the eyes, nose, and throat
  • Coughing and wheezing
  • Excessive phlegm (mucus in the airways)
  • Chest discomfort from lung irritation
  • Chest pain, which may indicate heart disease

The symptoms of secondhand smoke may resemble other medical conditions and problems. Always consult your adolescent's physician for a diagnosis.

Smoking and Cardiovascular Disease

Smoking, in addition to high cholesterol, high blood pressure, physical inactivity, obesity, and diabetes tops the list as a primary risk factor for cardiovascular disease, and is responsible for claiming the lives of more than 430,000 Americans each year. In fact, smoking has been classified as the single most preventable cause of premature death in the United States.


  • The use of e-cigarettes is unsafe for kids, teens, and young adults.
  • Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine. Nicotine is highly addictive and can harm adolescent brain development, which continues into the early to mid-20s.
  • E-cigarettes can contain other harmful substances besides nicotine.
  • Young people who use e-cigarettes may be more likely to smoke cigarettes in the future.
  • E-cigarettes are electronic devices that heat a liquid and produce an aerosol, or mix of small particles in the air.
  • Using an e-cigarette is sometimes called “vaping.”
  • E-cigarette devices can be used to deliver marijuana and other drugs.


According to the American Heart Association, eliminating smoking not only reduces the risk of coronary heart disease, but also reduces the risk of repeat heart attacks and death by heart disease by 50 percent. Research also indicates that smoking cessation is crucial in the management of many contributors to heart attack, including atherosclerosis, thrombosis, coronary artery disease, and cardiac arrhythmias.

Quitting smoking is both a mental and a physical undertaking. Mentally, you should be ready and relatively stress-free. Physically, you need to commit to exercising daily and getting plenty of sleep. A person trying to quit must overcome two obstacles: a physical addition to nicotine and a habit. The American Academy of Otolaryngology and the American Lung Association offer the following tips to help users quit using tobacco products:

  • Think about why you want to quit
  • Pick a stress-free time to quit
  • Ask for support and encouragement from family and friends
  • Start doing some exercise or activity each day to relieve stress and improve your health
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Eat a balanced diet
  • Join a smoking cessation program, or other support group

In some cases, smokers benefit from nicotine replacement products to help break their smoking habit. Nicotine replacement products continue to give smokers nicotine to meet their nicotine craving. However, the benefit of nicotine replacement products is the elimination of tars and poisonous gases that cigarettes emit. Pregnant or nursing women and people with other medical conditions should consult with their physician before using any nicotine replacement products. Some examples of nicotine replacement products include:

  • Nicotine chewing gum - an over-the-counter chewing gum that releases small amounts of nicotine to help reduce nicotine withdrawal symptoms
  • Nicotine patch - an over-the-counter patch applied to the upper body once a day that releases a steady dosage of nicotine to help reduce the urge to smoke.
  • Nicotine inhaler or nasal spray - a prescription nicotine replacement product that releases nicotine to help reduce withdrawal symptoms (requires a physician's approval before use).

Additional Resources

Reviewed By Jen Gronauer, RT

Contact Us

For more information about the Teen Health Center, call 513-636-4681, or e-mail


The Teen Health Center is located at the Cincinnati Children’s Burnet Campus, in Location C, on the second floor, next to the Test Referral Center.