While smoking has long been linked to an array of health problems, recent research shows that the harmful habit is worse than previously known: A new report from the U.S. surgeon general found that smoking causes diseases in almost every organ of the human body.
Released in late May, “The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General,” cites more than 1,600 scientific articles on the health effects of smoking. In addition to the well-known effects of smoking, such as lung, mouth and esophageal cancers, the new report found that smoking is conclusively linked to leukemia, cataracts and pneumonia as well as cancers of the pancreas, cervix and kidneys. Other complications linked to smoking in the report included diabetes complications, hip fractures and reproductive complications.
“The toxins from cigarette smoke can go everywhere the blood flows,” said U.S. Surgeon General Richard Carmona, MD, MPH, FACS. “I’m hoping this new information will help motivate people to quit smoking and convince young people not to start in the first place.”
The new report was released on the anniversary of the historic 1964 surgeon general’s report on smoking, which was the first to draw widespread attention to the dangers of tobacco use. While U.S. smoking rates have notably dropped since the publication of the first report – 42 percent of the public smoked in 1964 versus 22.5 percent of adults today – the practice still leads to 440,000 U.S. deaths each year.
More than 12 million Americans have died from smoking since the 1964 report, and another 25 million Americans alive today are expected to die of a smoking-related illness, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Among the report’s other conclusions was that low-tar or low-nicotine cigarettes are not healthier than regular cigarettes.
Despite the damaging effects of tobacco use, quitting smoking has immediate and long-term effects such as improved circulation and a drop in heart rate, the report found. Even quitting late in life can have positive effects: Giving up tobacco at age 65 can reduce a smoker’s risk of dying of related disease by 50 percent.
The scientific articles cited in the report are featured in a new online interactive database that is available via the surgeon general’s Web site at http://www.surgeongeneral.gov. The database will be updated as new studies are published.
The surgeon general report findings came as courts, legislators and advocates stepped up their attention to tobacco control in recent months.
In Washington, D.C., legislators from both sides of the political table embraced new legislation that would give the U.S. Food and Drug Administration the authority to regulate tobacco products.
While such legislation has been proposed in previous sessions of Congress, the new bills, introduced in May, are notable in that they were introduced by Republicans and Democrats in both congressional chambers. In the House, H.R. 4433 was introduced by Reps. Tom Davis, R-Va., and Henry Waxman, D-Calif., while in the Senate, S. 2461 was introduced by Sens. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.
The bills would provide FDA with the authority for actions such as prohibiting unsubstantiated health claims, requiring changes in the composition of tobacco products to make them less harmful and protecting children from tobacco marketing. A June poll by the Campaign For Tobacco-Free Kids found that 69 percent of respondents favored passing legislation that would provide regulation authority to FDA.
“Many consumers, including smokers, are surprised to learn that no federal agency has the authority to require tobacco companies to list the ingredients that are in their products – things like trace amounts of arsenic, formaldehyde and ammonia,” DeWine said. “No federal agency has the authority to inspect tobacco manufacturers – how the cigarette and smokeless tobacco products are made, whether the manufacturers’ machines and equipment are clean.”
FDA regulation of tobacco is supported by health and tobacco control advocates, including APHA, which has long had policy on the books specifically calling for such a move. APHA also supports measures that would provide incentives to tobacco farmers to switch to other crops, such as a tobacco industry-financed buyout of such farmers.