It has been 50 years since the surgeon general’s world-rocking report on the hazards of smoking, and last week another report from the same source, “The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress: A Report of the Surgeon General,” piled on yet more bad news.
As summarized by USAToday.com, the report concludes that smoking causes even more physical and financial damage than previously estimated. It kills 480,000 Americans a year from diseases including diabetes, colorectal cancer and liver cancer.
Smoking also affects an additional 16 million people who suffer from smoking-related conditions, and costs the U.S. more than $289 billion a year in direct medical care and other economic costs.
The news isn’t surprising, but it is the first time that the surgeon general called smoking “causally linked” to these diseases. Among the problems smoking causes:
- rheumatoid arthritis
- erectile dysfunction
- macular degeneration (a major cause of age-related blindness)
- impaired immune function.
It also increases the risk of death from tuberculosis, harms pregnant women and their fetuses by causing birth defects (cleft lips and palates) and ectopic pregnancies (a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus).
As you might imagine, people who don’t smoke but inhale the smoke of others also suffer more than previously known: In addition to increasing the risks of cancer and heart attacks, exposure to secondhand smoke also causes strokes.
According to a Dept. of Health and Human Services news release, 20 years ago male smokers were about twice as likely as female smokers to die early from smoking-related disease. Now, women are dying at rates as high as men from many of these diseases, including lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart disease.
The USA Today story said that nearly 2.5 million premature deaths were nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke, and that another 100,000 were babies who died of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or complications from prematurity, low birth weight or other conditions caused by parental smoking.
It’s interesting to note that since the 1964 report, adult smoking rates have fallen by more than half. And in 2011, for the first time, a Gallup poll found that a majority of Americans supported a ban on smoking in all public places.
But it’s still a popular habit that’s difficult to kick, thanks in large part to tobacco manufacturers who make and market increasingly dangerous goods (see our blog, “Smoking Still Kills and Tobacco Companies Still Fight the Truth”).
According to Acting Surgeon General Boris Lushniak, “How cigarettes are made and the chemicals they contain have changed over the years, and some of those changes may be a factor in higher lung cancer risks. Of all forms of tobacco, cigarettes are the most deadly….”
The jury is still out on e-cigarettes, and the best approach is not to be seduced by nicotine in the first place. And to know that it’s not just you such a habit harms – it’s anybody near you.