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Cigarette Smoking a Leading Cause of Preventable Death in United States

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On the last Sunday in November 2017, television viewers and print media readers experienced a dramatic moment that continues into this year. The three major U.S. tobacco companies were ordered by the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) to issue the first in what will be a series of five “corrective statements” about their products. The corrective statements are the result of a federal racketeering lawsuit brought against the tobacco companies in 1999 by the Department of Justice. These court-ordered statements, which cover five different topic areas, explain in detail and in plain language the reality of the health harms inflicted by tobacco products upon users. Not that the harmful effects of cigarette smoking on a smoker’s health is anything new. Since the 1960’s, smokers and non-smokers alike have been bombarded with packaging warnings, public awareness campaigns and tobacco advertising bans. In case someone missed the multitude of discussions, the new statements should leave little doubt about the dangers of smoking tobacco.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, causing nearly 30 percent of cancer deaths across the country. Of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco smoke, at least 250 are known to be harmful, including hydrogen cyanide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia. Among those, at least 69 can cause cancer. While we are all aware that smoking causes cancer, smoking also harms nearly every bodily organ and organ system in the body and diminishes a person’s overall health. Among the cancers caused are: lung, esophagus, larynx, mouth, throat, kidney, bladder, liver, pancreas, stomach, cervix, colon, and rectum, as well as acute myeloid leukemia. Smoking also causes heart disease, stroke, aortic aneurysm, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) (chronic bronchitis and emphysema), diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, age-related macular degeneration, and cataracts, and worsens asthma symptoms in adults. There is no safe level of smoking. Smoking even just one cigarette per day over a lifetime can cause smoking-related cancers and premature death.

Despite all the good reasons to quit, kicking the smoking habit is extremely difficult. Studies show that most smokers picked up the habit as a teenager. Cigarettes contain various amounts of Nicotine, the highly addictive drug primarily responsible for a person’s addiction to tobacco products, so quitting can be very difficult even for those already diagnosed with cancer. A study by American Cancer Society researchers found that about 1 in 10 cancer survivors still reports smoking about 9 years after a cancer diagnosis. Lead author Lee Westmaas, PhD, American Cancer Society Director of Tobacco Control Research, says, “Doctors and health care providers must continue to ask survivors about their smoking and provide resources, including medications and counseling, to help them quit.”

Cessation has immediate benefits to a smoker. Ex-smokers suffer from fewer illnesses, lower rates of pneumonia and are healthier overall than people who continue to smoke. Regardless of age, smokers can substantially reduce their risk of bad health. Smokers who quit before age 40 reduce their chance of dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases by about 90%, and the reduction for those who quit by age 45-54 is about two-thirds.

The National Cancer Institute (NCI) and other agencies and organizations can help smokers quit. For more information on organizations that can help you quit smoking, contact the NCI Smoking Quitline at 1–877–44U–QUIT (1–877–448–7848) for individualized counseling, printed information, and referrals to other sources.