A health report recently released by the organization Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids revealed that cigarettes sold in the United States are now more dangerous and deadly than ever. Design changes have also made them more attractive to children and more addictive to adults.
Over the last 50 years, tobacco companies have introduced many changes to cigarettes to increase sales, but the changes come at a cost to those who smoke. In 2009, Dr. David Burns from the University of California presented results from a study that he conducted, at a Society for Research on Nicotine and Tobacco meeting. The study spanned 40 years and compared the behavior of smokers from different age groups. These behaviors included: when they started smoking, when they quit, how much they smoked, and how the risk of cancer changed.
Cancer of the larger air tubes in the lungs, called squamous cell carcinoma, was once the most specific type of lung cancer seen in smokers. Doctors noticed an increase in adenocarcinoma, a cancer of the smaller air sacs that are deeper in the lungs.
In Burns’ study, the risk of adenocarcinoma rose, making up 65 to 70 percent of new lung cancer cases in the United States while the risk of squamous cell carcinoma stayed steady over those years. In Australia, adenocarcinoma makes up 40 percent of lung cancer cases.
Cigarette filters have ventilation holes in them and when tested, machines reveal data that shows lower levels of nicotine and tar, and therefore make the cigarettes look healthier. In fact, documentation shows that these holes changed the way that people smoked cigarettes. They began drawing the smoke and carcinogens more deeply into the lungs to feel the effects of the nicotine.
There are other ways that cigarettes sold in the U.S. are now made more deadly than ever. Bronchodilators are now added to cigarettes, which open the airways in the lungs, making it easier for smoke to get into them. The smoke is made to feel less harsh with the addition of levulinic acid. These organic acid salts make the smoke feel less irritating and smooth. Menthol also helps reduce irritation. The cooling and numbing sensation that menthol has on the throat makes the smoke feel smoother. Ammonia compounds in cigarettes help speed up the time that it takes nicotine to hit the brain. Sugar is also added. Yes, even to cigarettes! Sugars make the smoke easier to inhale, which forms acetaldehyde and increases the addictive effects of nicotine.
Flavors can mask how harsh cigarette smoke is and appeal to many people, especially kids. Although flavors were banned in 2009, low levels can still be added. Since tobacco companies control the amount of nicotine and the delivery of it, they can easily ensure addiction by increasing the nicotine content.
A harmful by-product of tobacco processing is nitrosamines, which are cancer causing chemicals. The levels of nitrosamines in cigarettes vary for different reasons, like curing methods. Cigarettes in the U.S. have higher levels of nitrosamines when compared to Canada and Australia. These levels have increased since 1964. Lower nitrosamine cigarettes are still deadly because there are other risks from smoking such as heart disease and stroke.
According to the Surgeon General, the death toll from smoking is 480,000 Americans per year, and it is estimated that half of the smoker’s today will die prematurely. According to the CDC, smoking costs the U.S. about $300 billion a year, and $133 billion of that is direct medical care for adults.
Although the number of lung cancer cases in the U.S. has decreased, individual smokers have a greater risk of it than ever before because the cigarettes now being sold are more deadly. Smokers also have a higher risk of developing chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, than in 1964 when the Surgeon General first released a report on cigarettes.
By Twanna Harps