Tobacco and Health
There are many reasons people want to quit tobacco — better physical and mental health, saving money, setting a good example, starting a family — and the great part is the benefits of quitting begin almost immediately.
Within 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate drops, and within days, you will notice improvements in your sense of taste and smell as well as your breathing. That’s just the start, because quitting will also:
- Reduce your risk for cancer.
- Lower your blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Reduce stress and improve your mental health.
- Boost the effectiveness of some anxiety and depression medications.
- Make it easier to stop using drugs and alcohol.
- Increase your energy.
- Improve your lung function, skin, and night vision.
- Strengthen your immune system, muscles, and bones.
- Help you manage HIV and other chronic health conditions.
The Risks of Tobacco Use
Just as the benefits of quitting are broad, so are the risks of continued tobacco use. The U.S. Surgeon General reports that smoking can harm almost every organ in the body, including the brain.
Using tobacco exposes you to harmful chemicals that can:
- Increase your risk for many types of cancer, including lung, pancreatic, kidney, stomach, and bladder cancer, as well as cancers of the blood, throat, and mouth.
- Decrease the effectiveness of medications for depression, anxiety, and psychotic disorders.
- Increase your risk for erectile dysfunction.
- Cause difficulties in getting pregnant.
When you smoke, whether at home, in the car, or in public places, you expose those around you to secondhand smoke, which in turn can cause them health problems:
- In the United States, secondhand smoke is responsible for more than 40,000 deaths a year. Breathing in even a little of it can be dangerous.
- It affects babies before and after they are born.
- It can affect lung development and make asthma worse in infants and children.
- It causes cancer in adults.
- It increases the risk of heart disease in those who don’t smoke.
- It can lead to cancer in cats, dogs, and other pets.
Download the Secondhand Smoke & Tobacco Usefact sheet to learn more.
The Risks of Using Smokeless Tobacco
Even though some tobacco products do not produce smoke, they still can cause harm. Smokeless tobacco contains at least 28 cancer-causing chemicals, including arsenic, lead, formaldehyde, and the particularly harmful tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNAs). The levels of TSNAs can be up to 100 times higher in smokeless tobacco than in cigarettes.
Some people think that using smokeless tobacco can help them stop smoking. In fact, it does not reduce dependence on nicotine, the highly addictive chemical found in tobacco. Compared with the nicotine in cigarettes, nicotine in smokeless tobacco stays in the bloodstream even longer.
The health risks associated with smokeless tobacco include:
- Cancers of the mouth, esophagus, and pancreas
- Increased risk for stroke and heart disease
- Gum disease and painful precancerous mouth sores
- Tooth decay and tooth loss
Get the Facts
Tobacco use carries different health risks for people depending on their health conditions and gender. VA has created a series of fact sheets to address these different conditions so that each Veteran can understand their unique risks associated with tobacco use.
Cancer and Chronic Illness Fact Sheets
- Cancer & Tobacco Use (812 KB, PDF)
- COPD & Tobacco Use (538 KB, PDF)
- Heart Disease & Tobacco Use (747 KB, PDF)
- Hepatitis C & Tobacco Use (819 KB, PDF)
- HIV & Tobacco Use (731 KB, PDF)
LGBT Veterans Fact Sheet
Men’s Health Fact Sheet
- Men’s Urological Health & Tobacco Use (598 KB, PDF)
Mental and Behavioral Health Conditions Fact Sheets
- Depression and Anxiety & Tobacco Use (77 KB, PDF)
- PTSD & Tobacco Use (343 KB, PDF)
- Schizophrenia & Tobacco Use (77 KB, PDF)
- Substance Use Disorders & Tobacco Use (530 KB, PDF)
Physical Health Fact Sheets
- Oral Health & Tobacco Use (1.2 MB, PDF)
- Pain Management & Tobacco Use (1.1 MB, PDF)
- Visual Health & Tobacco Use (524 KB, PDF)
- Wound Healing & Tobacco Use (1.1 MB, PDF)
Secondhand Smoke Fact Sheet
- Secondhand Smoke & Tobacco Use (533 KB, PDF)