Smoking turns out to be a “cancer trigger.” Despite the rate of smokers decreasing by 18 percent in 2012, Acting U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Boris Lushniak is saying “enough is enough.” He wants to ban tobacco and smoking altogether. Why? His surgeon general report, released Friday, establishes that one in five adults and teenagers smoke, and further studies prove that smoking causes colon, liver and colorectal cancer; diabetes; rheumatoid arthritis; and even cleft palate in infants.
Smoking, with its thousands of chemicals and chemical compounds, continues to be an addictive lure. Despite warning labels appearing on cigarette packets since 1967 (the U.S. was the first country to do so), the number of deaths as a result of tobacco use is still too high, and smoking is more dangerous now than ever. Tobacco commercials were erased from radio and TV in 1969, with the last cigarette ad making its appearance on Johnny Carson’s nighttime show in 1971.
In the first report written about the dangers of smoking, in 1964, Dr. Luther Terry was the first to prove the one link between smoking and lung cancer. Today, that number is 13. This is astonishing evidence that smoking is indeed a “cancer trigger.”
Even with 50 years of warnings about the dangers of smoking, and studies demonstrating no benefits of smoking, the public continues to smoke. This is a testament to the addictive power of tobacco, which has killed about 20 million Americans in the past 50 years. Every day, more than 3,000 youth younger than age 18 try smoking for the first time, and continue smoking into adulthood. Disturbingly, secondhand smokers are at increased risk of suffering a stroke by 20 to 30 percent, a risk the surgeon general first discussed in 1972.
So what does Surgeon General Lushniak think about how the U.S. is handling the smoking problem? First, he says, the sole responsibility cannot be left up to the federal government. Rather, anti-smoking campaigns need to be done at the local levels, involving nongovernmental agencies, educational and religious organizations and businesses. Also important is reaching healthcare providers and teaching them to talk with their patients about the dangers of smoking and quitting. Further, making tobacco products more expensive can be a deterrent from smoking. The tobacco industry, too, can carry responsibility, and it is–with a legal settlement in 1998, tobacco companies have been paying about $200 billion dollars to 46 states to aid in the treatment of ill smokers.
Still, this will not be enough. Even with the decrease in smokers nationwide, lung cancer is the leading preventable death in the U.S. This makes the problem frustrating for the surgeon general and health officials. Will the 18 percent decrease in smokers drop even further to 12 percent by the year 2020? Probably not. And to further add to the problem, e-cigarettes–the health effects of which are not known– have been gaining in popularity. This habit has more than doubled among middle and high schoolers between 2011 and 2012. The rising use of e-cigarettes will only muddle the message behind current anti-smoking campaigns throughout the U.S.
It is Lushniak’s sincere hope that if everyone stops smoking, the rates of various cancers will go down, people will be able to breathe freely, medical costs will take a nosedive and the U.S. economy will get a healthy, fresh boost. One day, smoking will no longer be a “cancer trigger.”
By Juana Poareo
St. Louis Post-Dispatch