Tobacco Overview


Tobacco use is the number one cause of preventable death in the United States and around the world. 

Tobacco killed one hundred million people worldwide in the 20th century — and if current trends continue, it will kill one billion people in the 21st century.

Every year, tobacco kills more than 480,000 Americans and six million people worldwide. The vast majority started smoking as children.

A Winnable Battle

We know how to win the fight against tobacco. Science and experience have identified proven, cost-effective strategies that prevent kids from smoking, help smokers quit and protect everyone from secondhand smoke. These strategies include:

These proven solutions save millions of lives and billions in health care costs.

Tobacco's Toll in the United States

In the United States, tobacco use kills more than 480,000 people per year — more than AIDS, alcohol, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined. About 50,000 of these deaths result from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Tobacco use causes some of the most feared and costly diseases, including cancer, heart disease and emphysema. It harms reproductive health and damages nearly every organ in the human body.

Smoking causes:

9 out of 10 deaths from lung cancer

3 out of 10 deaths from all cancers

8 out of 10 cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, such as emphysema

3 out of 10 deaths from heart disease

Tobacco use also exacts a huge financial toll. It costs the U.S. approximately $170 billion in health care expenditures and more than $150 billion in lost productivity each year.

Most smokers begin as children, and 580 kids become regular smokers every day. One in three of them will die an early death as a result. If current rates persist, more than 5.6 million U.S. kids alive today will die prematurely of tobacco-caused diseases.

The tobacco industry's insidious and even illegal practices are directly responsible for this terrible toll.

For decades, the industry has marketed its deadly and addictive products to children, deceived the public about the harmful effects of these products, and aggressively opposed measures to reduce tobacco use. In the U.S. alone, tobacco marketing totals $9.5 billion a year — $1 million every hour — and the industry spends millions more on lobbying and political contributions aimed at defeating tobacco control measures.

Progress, but Much Work Remains

Nonetheless,  the United States has made substantial progress. 

Success in cutting adult smoking rates

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Success in cutting high school smoking rates

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Despite our progress, the battle against tobacco is far from over. Too many kids still use tobacco products, and too many Americans still die prematurely from tobacco use. Novel tobacco products threaten to undermine progress in reducing youth tobacco use. The latest surveys show that youth use of electronic cigarettes has skyrocketed, and high school boys now smoke cigars at higher rates than cigarettes.

Government surveys also show large disparities in smoking, with higher rates among people who live below the poverty level; those with less education; American Indians/Alaska Natives; residents of the Midwest; and lesbians/gays/bisexuals. Adults who are uninsured or on Medicaid smoke at more than double the rates of those with private health insurance or Medicare.

If elected officials at all levels step up efforts to implement proven tobacco control strategies, the U.S. can accelerate its progress and win a historic public health victory. If they fail to do so, the nation's gains could stop and even reverse, at great cost in health, lives and health care dollars.

Tobacco's Toll Around the World

Worldwide, tobacco use kills six million people a year:

1 person every 6 seconds

More than 14,000 people every day

1 in 10 of all adult deaths

Increasingly, the tobacco industry has targeted low- and middle-income countries with fewer resources to fight back. Unless urgent action is taken, tobacco will kill eight million people a year by 2030, more than 80 percent of them in low- and middle-income countries.

Every day, as many as 100,000 young people around the world become addicted to tobacco. If current trends continue, 250 million children and young people alive today will die from tobacco-related disease.

The world's nations have responded with coordinated action to reduce tobacco use and save lives. The world's first public health treaty, the World Health Organization Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, took effect in February 2005. The treaty commits nations to implementing scientifically proven measures to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke.

What We Do

The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids is a leading force in the fight to reduce tobacco use and its deadly toll in the United States and around the world. Our vision: A future free of the death and disease caused by tobacco use.

In the United States, we advocate at the national, state, and local levels for policies proven to reduce tobacco use and save lives.

Internationally, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids supports governments and non-governmental organizations in promoting and implementing these policies. We are a partner in the Bloomberg Initiative to Reduce Tobacco Use, which focuses on low- and middle-income countries.

Learn more about what we do and how you can help.