Exposure to cigarette smoke causes as many as 443,000 deaths in the United States each year; an additional 49,000 lung-cancer deaths are caused by secondhand exposure. Diseases caused by tobacco products are the #1 preventable illness and cause of death in the US. In addition to lung and other cancers, tobacco products cause heart disease, bronchitis, emphysema, and other chronic diseases that are often fatal.

Smoking-Related Lung Cancers

The more a person smokes, the greater the risk for cancer development. Smokers are six times more likely than nonsmokers to have heart attacks, too.

Smoking / Primary Exposure — In men, 90% of all lung cancers are caused by cigarette smoking; in women, the rate is 80%. Smokers put themselves at increased risk for other cancers, including cancers of the mouth, nasal cavity, throat, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, bladder, kidney, cervix, and an acute form of leukemia. Smokers in the US include:

  • 19% of the adult population (in 2011).
  • 16% of all high school students.
  • 7.3% of high school students use smokeless forms of tobacco.

Secondhand Exposure — Women are more likely than men to get lung cancer via secondhand smoke exposure. More men than women smoke but the women in their company (households, workplaces, etc.) are not free of risk by simply not smoking themselves.

Thirdhand Exposure — The study of health consequences from thirdhand exposure is in its infancy but this form of exposure affects the smallest children and pets most intensely. Thirdhand exposure occurs when smoke from the air settles on surfaces, leaving a tar- and nicotine-filled film wherever it lands. Infants, toddlers, and pets are most affected due to the extensive length of time they spend on floors and putting contaminated objects in their mouths. Long-term effects of thirdhand smoke exposure in early childhood have not been fully studied at this time.

Lung Cancer Caused by Radon

Exposure to radon, a rare radioactive gas that occurs naturally in the ground, is the second leading cause of lung cancer, affecting smokers and non-smokers alike. Exposure was first linked to lung cancer in miners during the 1940s but most people are exposed to radon in the home.

Since radon is tasteless, colorless, and odor-free, special devices are required to detect its presence. Most radon exposure comes from the ground or the water supply. As it enters the home, it evaporates and contaminates the air; water-borne radon exposure also comes from cooking, drinking water, and personal cleansing regimens.

Only certain types of soil harbor radon but basements in these areas are prime sources of entry, as are the architectural openings where pipes and other construction elements come in contact with or near the soil. When a home’s water supply comes from a well or municipal groundwater reservoir where the soil emits radon, water-borne exposure exists.

The US Environmental Protection Agency estimates as many as 1 in 15 American homes is contaminated by radon; workplaces, schools, and other childcare facilities may be at risk, too. Testing and treatment options exist for eliminating radon-related risks. Farmers and avid gardeners who work with radon-emitting soil face increased risk of illness.


  1. Smoking (facts and resources). National Cancer Institute. National Institutes of Health. n.d. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
  2. A Citizen’s Guide to Radon. EPA. United States Environmental Protection Agency. 10 Jan. 2013. Web. 20 Oct. 2014.
Keyword Tags: