Smoking and Tobacco

Is smoking really that dangerous?

Smoking tobacco has declined since 1964 when the Advisory Committee to the US Surgeon General concluded that smoking was a cause of lung and laryngeal cancer. In addition to these cancers, smoking causes heart disease, stroke, oral and esophageal cancer, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), intrauterine growth restriction, and low birthweight. People who don’t smoke themselves but who are around people who do smoke have secondhand smoke exposure, which has similar risks to a person’s health. Even being in a room where people have smoked or being around clothing they wore while smoking, or thirdhand smoke, can be dangerous to your health. Children are especially at risk for thirdhand smoke exposure.

Why is it so hard to stop using tobacco?

Tobacco is addicting because of a chemical called nicotine. While nicotine doesn’t cause a high like recreational drugs, it does trigger changes in the brain that cause us to want to use it again. People who are addicted to nicotine will experience cravings, moodiness, anxiety, and trouble concentrating and sleeping. Many people have trouble stopping using tobacco and have to try several times before they are successful.

Is it ok to vape instead?

Vaping is a relatively new behavior, so we don’t have good long-term data on what effects it might have on health.  There is some evidence that some people who currently smoke may be able to use vaping as a tool to help stop smoking. However, people who do not smoke or vape already should not start. Vaping fluids containing nicotine leads to nicotine addiction, which can make a person more likely to smoke and use other forms of tobacco. We also do not know the long-term effects of vaping might be. You can get more information on our fact sheet on vaping.

What about smokeless tobacco?

Smokeless tobacco, such as chewing tobacco, is not a cause of lung cancer but does have other health risks. Smokeless tobacco cause mouth, esophagus, and pancreatic cancer. It causes cardiovascular disease, increasing the risk of death from heart attack or stroke. Women who use smokeless tobacco while pregnant are at risk for stillbirth and premature birth. It also causes oral disease, causing gum disease and tooth decay.

How can I stop?

Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation. They may be able to prescribe nicotine replacement therapy or a medication to help make it easier to quit. The Quit Now Virginia page has resources available for people who want to quit using tobacco and vaping. This includes over the phone coaching, group coaching sessions, and information about quitting smoking. These services are free to Virginia residents 13 years old and over.  You can reach their hotline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW, or Spanish speakers can call 1-855-DEJELO-YA, and the deaf and hard of hearing community can use TTY Line 1-877-777-6534.

Where can I go for more information?


Updated 2023