Smoking facts

In Northern Ireland 2,700–3,000 people die every year from tobacco use.1

Around 106,000 people in the UK are killed by smoking every year, accounting for one fifth of all UK deaths.2

Lung cancer kills more people than any other type of cancer and around 80% of these deaths are caused by smoking. Around 800 people die from lung cancer in the Northern Ireland each year.3

Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, including tar, nicotine, benzene, carbon monoxide, ammonia, formaldehyde, and hydrogen cyanide.4

The average smoker will lose about 10 years of life because of their smoking.5

In Northern Ireland in 2004/5, 77% of all adult smokers said they would like to give up smoking altogether.6

Within a year of stopping smoking risk of heart attack falls to about half that of a continuing smoker, and within 10 years risk of lung cancer falls to half that of a smoker.7

30 minutes exposure to second-hand smoke is sufficient to reduce coronary blood flow in otherwise healthy adults.8

Non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoking in the home have a 25% increased risk of heart disease and lung cancer.9

Passive smoking can be a cause of lung cancer and ischaemic heart disease in adult non-smokers, and a cause of respiratory disease, cot death, middle ear disease and asthmatic attacks in children.10

Blood cotinine levels among non-smokers exposed to second-hand smoke are associated with a 50%–60% increased risk of heart disease.11

Around 120,000 men in the UK are impotent as a result of smoking. Smoking increases the risk of impotence by around 50% for men in their 30s and 40s.12

Female smokers’ chances of conceiving fall by 10%–40% per menstrual cycle.13

Women who smoke during pregnancy:

  • have a 27% higher chance of a miscarriage;
  • increase by 33% the risk of perinatal mortality;
  • are twice as likely to experience premature labour;
  • are three times more likely to have a low birthweight baby (on average 200gms or around 7oz lighter on average);
  • are more likely to have children who suffer breathlessness and wheezing in the first six months of their life. 14

Men who smoke have a lower sperm count than non-smokers, and their semen contains a higher proportion of malformed sperm.15

Smoking is a causal factor in cervical cancer, the leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide.16

Exposure to second-hand smoke – passive smoking or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) – is associated with:

  • acute respiratory illness in early childhood;
  • chronic cough, phlegm, and wheeze in children;
  • chronic middle ear effusions in children;
  • reduced levels and growth of lung function in children;
  • increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS);
  • increased bronchial hyper-responsiveness in asthmatics;
  • increased lung symptoms in asthmatics;
  • decreased lung function in asthmatics;
  • irritation to the eyes, nose, throat;
  • increased risk of lung cancer and heart disease with long-term exposure.17

In houses where both parents smoke, young children have a 72% increased risk of respiratory illnesses.18

More than 17,000 children under the age of five are admitted to hospital in the UK every year because of the effects of passive smoking.19

Children’s mental development – reading and reasoning skills – is affected by even a low level of smoke exposure.20

Passive smoking is a cause of bronchitis, pneumonia, coughing and wheezing, asthma attacks, middle ear infection, cot death, and possibly cardiovascular and neurobiological impairment in children.21

Overall, only 26% of all individuals in Northern Ireland currently smoke.22

The majority of smokers are within the 20–34 age bracket.22

Nearly one in five young people aged 16–19 currently smoke.22

Over twice as many people smoke who are unskilled manual workers (44%) compared to those in the employer/manager category (21%) and three times as many as those in the professional (13%) category.22

Smoking is the main cause of Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). In Great Britain 80% of deaths from the disease are attributed to smoking. By applying this figure to statistics provided by the Northern Ireland Census Office (1995-2004), it can be estimated that an average of 500 people die every year in Northern Ireland as a result of smoking related COPD.23


1. Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety. Tobacco action plan. Belfast: DHSSPS, 2003.

2. Peto R, Lopez A, Boreham J, Thun M, Heath C Jr. Mortality from smoking in developed countries 1950–2000. Second edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

3. Cancer Research UK. CancerStats: Mortality – UK. 2004. 

4. US Environmental Protection Agency. Respiratory health effects of passive smoking. Washington, D.C.: US Environmental Protection Agency, 1992.

5. Doll R, Peto R, Boreham J, Sutherland I. Mortality in relation to smoking: 50 years’ observations on male British doctors. BMJ 2004; 328, 1519.

6. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Continuous household survey 2004/5.

NISRA. 21 September 2006. 

7. US Surgeon General. The health benefits of smoking cessation. US Department of Health and Human Services, 1990.

8. Otsuka R, Watanabe H, Hirata K, Tokai K, Muro T, et al. Acute effects of passive smoking on the coronary circulation of healthy young adults. Journal of the American Medical Association 2001; 284(4): 436–41.

9. Law MR, Morris JK, Wald NJ. Environmental Tobacco Smoke exposure and ischaemic heart disease: an evaluation of the evidence. BMJ 1997; 328: 977–80.

10. Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTH). Report of the Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health. London: TSO, 1998. Scientific Committee on Tobacco and Health (SCOTH). Secondhand smoke: review of evidence since 1998. London: Department of Health, 2004. 

11. Whincup P, Gilg JA, Embersen JR, Jarvis MJ, Feyerabend C, et al. Passive smoking and risk of coronary heart disease and stroke; prospective study with cotinine measurement. BMJ 2004; 329:918.

12. Action on Smoking and Health, British Medical Association. Warning; Smoking causes male sexual impotence. ASH, London: BMA, 1999. 

13. Curtis KM, Savitz DA, Arbuckle TE. Effects of cigarette smoking, caffeine consumption, and alcohol intake on fecundability. American Journal of Epidemiology 1997; 146(1): 32–41.

14. West R. Smoking cessation and pregnancy. Fetal and Maternal Medicine Review 2002; 13(3): 181–194.

15. Sofikitis N, Takenaka M, Kanakas N, Papadopoulus H, Yamamoto Y, et al. Effects of nicotine on sperm mobility, membrane function and fertilising capacity in vitro. Urological Research 2000; 28(6):370–5.

16. Simons AM, Philipps DH, Coleman DV. Damage to DNA in cervical epithelium related to smoking tobacco. BMJ 1993; 306:1444–8. /Yang X et al International Journal of cancer 1996. Sarma D, Yang X, Jin G, Shindoh M, Pater MM et al. Resistance to retinoic acid and altered cytokeratin expression of human papillomavirus type 16-immortalised endocervical cells after tumorigenesis. International Journal of Cancer 1996; 65(3): 345–50.

17. Pechacek TF, Babb S. How acute and reversible are the cardiovascular risks of second-hand smoke? BMJ 2004; 328: 980–3.

18. Strachan DP, Cook DG. Health effects of passive smoking. 1. Parental smoking and lower respiratory illness in infancy and early childhood. Thorax 1997; 52(10):905–14.

19. Royal College of Physicians. Smoking and the young. London: RCP 1992.

20. Yolton K, Dietrich, K, Auinger, P, Lanphear BP, Hornung R. Exposure to environmental tobacco smoke and cognitive ability among US children and adolescents. Environmental Health Perspective 2002; 113(1): 98–103.

21. World Health Organisation. International consultation on environmental tobacco smoke and child health. Geneva: WHO 1999.  

22. Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency. Continuous household survey. Belfast: NISRA. 2006.

23. Nicotine Addiction in Britain. A report of the Tobacco Advisory Group of the Royal College of Physicians. RCP, 2000. Registrar General Northern Ireland, Annual Report, Statistics & Research Agency. Mortality statistics 2002.

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