Smoking: What We Should Know and What Else We Are Learning

 health, smoking, surgeon general

There is plenty of alarming information about smoking that not enough people know and should know, and after the surgeon general released their 32nd report on tobacco on Friday, there is plenty more information to learn if the U.S. wants to take the next step forward.

The surgeon general report comes 50 years following their 1964 bombshell that linked cancer to tobacco. Over these years, the report says there have been more than 20 million premature deaths due to smoking and secondhand smoke. Moreover, even though there have been declines in the prevalence of smoking from 42 percent to 18 percent, the mortality rate related to smoking causes has remained above 400,000 for over a decade. The current number of deaths per year is estimated to be about 480,000, a 76,000 increase from 2008.

Some of the newer findings in this report link smoking to various other conditions. Smokers have a 30-40 percent chance of developing diabetes than non-smokers. Furthermore, exposure to second hand smoking is now associated with a 20-30 percent increase of getting a stroke. In addition, the report found that smoking can also cause ectopic pregnancies, erectile dysfunction, macular degeneration, rheumatoid arthritis and impaired immune function.

This is all in addition to what society already knows or should know about smoking including the fact that it causes over several forms of cancer from lung cancer to stomach cancer to bladder and cervical cancer. Moreover, developing lung cancer increases if the frequency of smoking increases and depending on the younger a person begins to smoke. Worldwide, male and female deaths by lung cancer caused by smoking is 80 and 50 percent respectively.

Smoking can also cause cardiovascular diseases, such as heart attack and coronary artery disease, along with diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and pneumonia. The World Health Organization reports that 20 percent of global TB incidences is smoking related, and it is estimated that between 2010 and 2050 around 40 million smokers with TB will die.

It is also important for women to understand that smoking can harm a fetus, leading to low birth weight and health problems for both mother and baby. Moreover, smoking can also lead to sudden infant death syndrome.

The most alarming of Friday’s surgeon general’s report is its explicit warning that 5.6 million children alive today will die early as a result of smoking, which is equal to 1 in 13 children in America.

The hardest part of battling this tobacco war is preventing teens from wanting to smoke, with the report stating that a high percentage of smokers, 87 percent, had their first cigarette under the age of 18. Acting surgeon general Boris Lushniak says to reach a goal of a smoke-free generation, an attack on federal government is not sufficient enough. There needs to be changes made on a local level across the U.S. with health care professionals, academia, and businesses.

The U.S. and other countries without national bans should look abroad to China which may soon set an example to follow. The country reported last week they are considering a nation wide ban on smoking in public places, in response to some urgent statistics.

The World Health Organization found that one in every 3 cigarettes smoked and one in every six smoking related deaths worldwide occurs in China. WHO also found that 100,000 second-hand smokers die annually, which is equal to someone dying in China every 30 seconds because of tobacco use. They estimate that by 2050 the number of tobacco-related deaths annually will increase to 3 million. Currently, there are 300 million smokers in China almost equal to the entire population of the U.S.

By Kollin Lore

Surgeon General