Tobacco use is one of the most important preventable causes of premature death in the world. More than 6 million people per year die from tobacco use across the globe. There is no question that limiting tobacco use is one of the most effective ways to save lives and improve overall well-being.
Smoking tobacco causes exposure to a lethal mixture of more than 7000 toxic chemicals, including at least 70 known carcinogens that can damage nearly every organ system in the human body. Harms from tobacco begin before birth, as pregnant women who smoke give birth to infants at higher risk of congenital disorders, cancer, lung diseases, and sudden death. Newly identified risks from smoking include renal failure, intestinal ischemia, and hypertensive heart disease. The risk of death and disease from tobacco rises with the number of cigarettes smoked, but damage begins with use of a very small number of cigarettes. A regular life-long smoker loses at least 10–11 years of life to tobacco on average. In addition, exposure to secondhand or environmental tobacco smoke is associated with increased risk of cancer and heart disease, among other deleterious health effects.
Lung cancer is now the leading cause of cancer death in the world. It has long been the leading cause of cancer death among men, and in many countries is now also the leading cause of cancer death among women, outpacing breast cancer. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is one of the leading causes of death in the world, and mortality from this condition is increasing in most countries; globally, 45% of all deaths from COPD are attributed to tobacco use. Similarly, death from heart disease and stroke, the two leading causes of death in the world, are heavily tied to tobacco use.
Combustible tobacco use is extremely hazardous to human health and is responsible for more than 90% of tobacco-attributable death and disease, despite efforts by the tobacco industry to market safer-sounding alternatives such as low-tar cigarettes and water pipes. Therefore, a top priority is to avoid combustible tobacco products, and the only way for an individual to completely eliminate tobacco-related harms is not to use them.