The Harmful Health Effects of Smoking

Tobacco remains the leading cause of preventable disease in Canada, killing 37,000 Canadians annually.

There are approximately 13,000 tobacco-related deaths each year in Ontario; that's 36 deaths per day.

Sources: Canadian Cancer Society, The Lung Association

How cigarette smoke harms the body

The chemicals in cigarettes harm many different parts of your body:

  • Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemicals, of which more than 70 are known to cause cancer. A few examples of the chemicals found in tobacco smoke are nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, ammonia, cyanide, and formaldehyde.
  • The nicotine present in cigarettes and other forms of tobacco products (e.g. cigars, cigarillos, chewing tobacco) can lead to addiction. People who are exposed to nicotine at an early age are more likely to become addicted, making it harder to quit later in life.
  • In addition, people who smoke are at an increased risk for developing various diseases compared those who do not smoke.

Short-term effects of smoking include:

  • Bad breath
  • Stained teeth and fingers
  • Reduced sense of taste and smell
  • Premature wrinkles
  • Decreased lung function
  • Decreased immune function

Long-term effects of smoking include:

  • Cancers (e.g. lung, mouth, throat, bladder, cervical etc.)
  • Cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart attack, stroke)
  • Lung and respiratory diseases (e.g., emphysema, chronic bronchitis, asthma)
  • Premature death

>Sources: Health Canada

Effects of second-hand smoke

  • Second-hand smoke is the combination of smoke coming directly from a burning tobacco product and the smoke exhaled by a person smoking.
  • There is no safe level of second-hand smoke.
  • Second-hand smoke harms everyone, and it is particularly dangerous for infants and children because their smaller lungs require them to breathe more quickly.
  • Second-hand smoke exposure increases the following health risk to infants and children:
    • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
    • Asthma
    • Bronchitis
    • Ear infection
    • Breathlessness and coughing
  • Second-hand smoke exposure increases the following health risk to adults, including those who do not smoke:
    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Lung cancer
    • Respiratory problems (e.g., emphysema, asthma, coughing)
    • Nasal and chest infections

Sources: Health Canada

Youth and smoking

The decision to start smoking is linked to several key factors including individual characteristics (i.e. age and sex), the immediate social environment (i.e. friends and family), and the broader social environment (i.e. school and the community).1 Research shows that the younger a person is when they start smoking, the more difficult it will be to quit later in life.1,2

Smoking among Peel youth

  • Peel Region has a low rate of smoking in comparison to Ontario (11% vs. 17%, respectively).3
  • In 2017, the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey revealed that 3% of Peel students in grades 7-12 reported smoking cigarettes in the last 12 months. This is significantly lower than Ontario students (7%).4
  • Many students who tried smoking in their lifetime smoked their first whole cigarette before entering high school.4 In Peel, the average age for smoking a first whole cigarette is 17 years old.5
  • Many underage smokers in Peel (53%) reported getting their cigarettes from a friend or a family member.3
  • In 2015, 42% of Peel youth who reported smoking in the past year attempted to quit at least once.3

Smoking in movies can harm our kids

Movies are a powerful vehicle for promoting tobacco use.6 There is a substantial body of evidence indicating youth who are exposed to smoking in movies are more likely to start smoking.6 It is estimated that more than 185,000 children and teens aged 0-17 living in Ontario will be recruited to cigarette smoking by exposure to on-screen smoking.6 It is projected that at least 59,000 of these individuals who smoke will die prematurely from a smoking-related disease.6

Exposure to tobacco use in movies include:

  • Characters using or handling tobacco (e.g. smoking a cigarette, cigar, using chewing tobacco).
  • Tobacco use in the background (e.g. an open package of cigarettes, or tin of chewing tobacco).

In Canada, on-screen smoking is one of the last remaining ways that smoking can still be promoted to children and youth. Reducing the exposure of on-screen smoking among children and youth can prevent their likelihood of initiating smoking later in life. For more information about tobacco use in the movies and to learn how you can help make movies smoke-free, visit the Ontario Coalition for Smoke-Free Movies website at:

Alternative tobacco products

Tobacco is available in many different forms and can be used in a variety of ways (e.g. through inhalation of tobacco smoke, by chewing leaves, or sniffing dried tobacco). Alternative tobacco products are defined as tobacco consumed in a form other than a cigarette, cigar, or pipe, which include waterpipe smoking or using smokeless tobacco products (e.g. chew, snuff, snus).3 There is a common misconception that alternative tobacco products are less harmful and are safer than smoking regular cigarettes. However, these products still contain the addictive drug nicotine, and users are at risk of developing the same diseases caused by traditional tobacco use.

Electronic cigarettes

An electronic cigarette (e-cigarette) is a battery-powered device that heats a liquid solution to create an inhalable aerosol or vapour. The act of inhaling the vapour is commonly referred to as "vaping." E-cigarettes do not contain tobacco, involve burning, or produce smoke. E-cigarettes containing nicotine are legal in Canada, however that does not mean that they are safe. Children and youth are especially susceptible to the negative effects of nicotine including addiction and altered brain development.7 There is currently limited evidence on the long-term health and safety risks of e-cigarette use and exposure to second-hand vapour. However, Health Canada cautions that children must be prevented from vaping.7


  1. Statistics Canada. 2015. Current smoking trends. Retrieved from:
  2. Breslau N, Peterson E. Smoking cessation in young adults: age at initiation of cigarette smoking and other suspected influences. American Journal of Public Health. 1996; 86:215.
  3. Peel Public Health. A Look at Peel Youth in Grades 7 - 12: Tobacco. Results from the Ontario Student Drug Use and Health Survey, 2013-2015, A Peel Health Technical Report. 2016.
  4. Per cent of cigarette smoking [Internet]. Mississauga (ON): Peel Public Health, Population Health Assessment; [updated 2018 July 3; cited 2018 09 18]. Available from: /health/statusdata/HealthBehaviours/per-cent-of-smoking.asp
  5. Age of Smoking Initiation [Internet]. Mississauga (ON): Peel Public Health, Population Health Assessment; [updated 2016 Feb 26; cited 2018 Sep 10. Available from: /health/statusdata/HealthBehaviours/smoking-age.asp.
  6. Luk R. and Schwartz R. Youth Exposure to Tobacco in Movies in Ontario, Canada: 2004-2014. OTRU Special Report. Toronto, ON: Ontario Tobacco Research Unit, September 2015.
  7. Health Canada. 2018. Vaping. Retrieved from:

Revised: Friday February 17 2023

Privacy Service Commitment

Smaller Text Larger Text

A-Z List | Accessible Info | Careers | Contact Us

Random Image

Regional Government

  • News