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Harmful Substances

Cigarette smoking is one of the most preventable causes of premature deaths in the United States.  More than 440,000 people die as a result of smoking cigarettes.  Scientific studies provided evidence that cigarette smoking is a major cause of coronary heart disease, which leads to heart attack.  There are more than 4000 harmful substances found in cigarette smoke increasing the toxic and destructive effects of smoking in the human body.  Developing primary prevention programs in at risk communities are necessary to assist people with ending smoking habits.



Harmful Substances:  Tobacco

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that tobacco use in the United States is responsible for about 1 in 5 deaths per year.  That means that smoking leads to about 443,000 deaths per year, and when compared to nonsmokers, smokers die 13-14 years earlier.1 

Smoking and tobacco use are risk factors that lead to several long-term diseases, including coronary heart disease (blockage in heart arteries) and stroke.2 Smoking causes the buildup of fat in the arteries, called atherosclerosis, which blocks the flow of blood through the arteries leading to possible clots in the arteries, chest pain, heart attacks or death.  Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.  It is important to know that smoking is the most preventable cause of heart disease in the United States.  People who use tobacco have more heart attacks, higher blood pressure, blood clots, strokes, and other diseases of the cardiovascular system. 

Secondhand smoke is also a risk factor for many diseases, and long-term exposure to secondhand smoke has been proven to cause a 30% increase in the risk of heart disease in nonsmokers.  Contact with secondhand smoke also results in a reduction in exercise ability, damages blood vessel walls, and increases blood clots, which also leads to heart attacks.

Also, using smokeless tobacco increases the risk of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. According to the CDC, smokeless tobacco is very addictive because of its high nicotine levels, and it may be more difficult to quit smokeless tobacco than smoking.

Quit Smoking:  If you smoke or use tobacco, quit.  Also, take steps to protect yourself from second-hand smoke.  Ask for help to quit. Call 1-800-QUITNOW (1-800-784-8669).



  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking-Attributable Mortality, Years of Potential Life Lost, and Productivity Losses—United States, 2000–2004. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2008;57(45):1226–8.
  2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. Atlanta: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2004.



Harmful Substances: Alcohol

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that if you drink alcohol, limit the amount.  This means an average of one to two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women.  An example of a drink is one 12 oz. beer, 4 oz. of wine, 1.5 oz. shot of liquor.  Limiting your alcoholic drink intake per day may be associated with a reduced heart attack risk, perhaps due to its effect on HDL (“good”) cholesterol. 

On the other hand, if you drink more than the recommended amount, there is an increased risk not only for alcoholism, but also high blood pressure, stroke, obesity, as well as breast cancer and accidents.  Accordingly, the AHA advises those who do not already drink alcohol, NOT to start drinking for some expected health benefit. 

Also, you may want to discuss with your doctor or other health care provider your own personal risk factors and the risks of consuming alcohol even in moderation.

What are the effects of drinking too much alcohol? 

  • Drinking too much alcohol can lead to an increase in the levels of some fats in the blood (triglycerides).  
  • Drinking too much alcohol may also lead to high blood pressure, heart failure and an increased calorie intake, which can result in obesity and thus a higher risk of developing diabetes.
  • Drinking too much alcohol and binge drinking can lead to strokes, as well as heart problems such as arrhythmias or skipped heart beats and sudden cardiac death.



  1. (February, 2011)
  2. (February, 2012)
  3. Pai JK, Mukamal KJ, Rimm EB. Long-term alcohol consumption in relation to all-cause and cardiovascular mortality among survivors of myocardial infarction: the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Eur Heart J. 2012 Mar 27.