If someone were to ask you what the number one most preventable cause of death in the United States is, what would your answer be? Drinking and driving, maybe, or obesity-related health problems? As it turns out, the answer is tobacco use. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking causes about one of every five deaths per year, and exposure to secondhand smoke is estimated to cause 41,000 deaths among adults. But what exactly is it about tobacco that’s so deadly?
According to the 2010 Surgeon General’s Report – How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease – tobacco smoke contains more than 7000 chemical compounds, many of which are toxic. More than 69 of these, including polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and tobacco-specific nitrosamines, can cause cancer. Although most people associate lung cancer with smoking, it can also cause bladder, cervical, esophageal, kidney, laryngeal, oral, pancreatic and stomach cancer, as well as acute myeloid leukemia. Smoking tobacco can also cause heart disease, stroke, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute respiratory illnesses, and reproductive effects such as sudden infant death syndrome.
Cigarette smoking is a major cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD), accounting for more than one in ten CVD deaths in the year 2000. It’s not only a risk factor on its own, but it increases the chances of an individual developing other conditions that can lead to CVD, such as high serum levels of lipids (high cholesterol, in laymen’s terms), untreated hypertension (high blood pressure), and diabetes mellitus (where the pancreas either produces little or no insulin, or it does produce it but the insulin doesn’t work as it should). The factor of smoking alone doubles the level of risk for CVD, while the simultaneous presence of another major risk factor can quadruple the risk.
It’s not just long term or heavy smoking that can cause heart problems. Low levels of exposure, including exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke, may lead to an increase in endothelial dysfunction and inflammation. The endothelium is a thin membrane that lines the inside of the heart and blood vessels. When the arteries can’t dilate fully, this can cause a stroke or heart attack.
Smoking also causes a variety of pulmonary or respiratory diseases. Some of the non-cancerous conditions include emphysema, chronic bronchitis, and asthma. Chronic bronchitis is a long-term (chronic) inflammation of the large airways (called bronchi) in the lungs. Symptoms include coughing up mucus over a long period of time. Emphysema is a chronic lung condition affects the air sacs (called alveoli) in the lungs. Symptoms include shortness of breath, coughing, fatigue, sleep and heart problems, weight loss, and depression.
There is no risk-free level of cigarette smoke, although the risk and severity of complications can vary according to the duration and level of exposure. The only way to truly avoid any of these conditions is to abstain from smoking and not expose yourself to secondhand smoke.
If you or a loved one need help with quitting drugs or alcohol, consider Asana Recovery. We offer medical detox, along with both residential and outpatient programs, and you’ll be supervised by a highly trained staff of medical professionals, counselors, and therapists. Call us any time at (949) 438-4504 to get started.