For the past 50 years, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the U.S. Surgeon General have been on the front lines of science to discover how cigarettes affect the body. During that time, smoking has been implicated in almost every type of cancer and a variety of other health conditions – emphysema, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease and more. It would be a challenge to find anyone who hasn’t heard about the dire health warnings related to cigarette smoking.
Anti-smoking campaigns generally focus on the damage done to the respiratory system and the lungs in particular, but a new Surgeon General’s report suggests that smoking is even deadlier than we thought.
The Health Consequences of Smoking
“The Health Consequences of Smoking – 50 Years of Progress”, released last week, is the latest report to demonstrate the deadly effects of smoking. “Amazingly, smoking is even worse than we knew,” says Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a recent NY Times piece. “Even after 50 years, we’re still finding new ways that smoking maims and kills people.”
Smoking lowers the body’s ability to fight infection and inflammation, risk factors for both minor and major illnesses alike. The list of diseases that are caused (or affected) by a compromised immune system and inflammation is far too long to include here, but suffice it to say that almost any physical ailment you can name is caused or negatively affected by the use of tobacco.
Smoking Affects Both Young & Old
While people of any age or socioeconomic class are vulnerable to the negative effects of smoking, older, long-term smokers will experience the effects differently than younger, newer users. For instance, the report now links erectile dysfunction, macular degeneration, liver and colorectal cancer and rheumatoid arthritis to smoking, which are more prevalent among the elderly.
Teens and young people, who often live with an air of invincibility, are just as vulnerable to cancer, asthma, tuberculosis and other lung disorders. There is no definitive proof that smoking causes diabetes, but the consensus is that it harms diabetic patients by aggravating glucose homeostasis and increasing diabetic complications. And young adults ready to start a family have more reasons to break the habit. The report links smoking to infertility, ectopic pregnancies, premature birth, sudden infant death syndrome and various birth defects.
Newly added to the Surgeon General’s list of smoking-related diseases:
- Liver Cancer
- Colorectal Cancer
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Rheumatoid Arthritis
- Erectile Dysfunction
- Macular Degeneration
The Death Toll Projected to Rise…
In the fifty years since the first surgeon general report, an estimated 20 million Americans have died as a result of tobacco smoke. According to this latest report, the death toll from tobacco is projected to rise by approximately 37,000 annually based on new science about the harmful effects of tobacco on the body.
In addition, cigarettes are even more deadly than in the past because of substantial changes in cigarette design and manufacturing standards over the past several decades, with approximately 70 chemicals in cigarettes known to cause cancer. The addition of filters increased puff volume and also caused a substantial increase of carcinogenic nitrosamine levels.
David Sutton, a spokesman for Altria, the parent company of tobacco giant Philip Morris USA, does not contest the scientific evidence that cigarettes cause cancer and a wide variety of other deadly diseases.
“As we’ve said for some time, there is no safe cigarette.”