Smoking Risks and
Q: I know that smoking is
bad for a person's health. Just how bad is it?
A: About as bad as it could get. Smoking
is one of the most important causes of disease
and is responsible for at least one out of every
five deaths in the United States. Compared to
nonsmokers, smokers have 10 times the risk of
getting lung cancer -- and twice the risk of
dying from heart disease. Smoking also causes
chronic lung disease -- chronic bronchitis and
emphysema -- which can be fatal. But that's not
all. As research continues, the list of diseases
associated with smoking keeps growing longer.
That list now includes stroke, peptic ulcer,
osteoporosis, and cataracts, as well as cancer
of the mouth, throat, esophagus, pancreas,
kidney, bladder, uterus, cervix -- and possibly
also leukemia and cancer of the breast,
prostate, and colon. In addition, diabetics who
smoke increase their risk of kidney disease.
Smoking can interfere with the healing of wounds
and fractures. And it increases facial
wrinkling, making a person look older than he or
she really is.
Q: Isn't cigar smoking
less of a risk to health than cigarette smoking?
After all, most cigar smokers don't inhale.
A: This is largely a myth, and a
dangerous one. Medical research has shown that
cigar smoking increases a person's risk of heart
disease and cancer -- especially mouth, throat,
and lung cancer. That's not really surprising
once you know that cigar smoke contains the same
toxic and cancer-causing chemicals as cigarette
smoke (and is just as addictive), that smoking
four or more cigars in a day is the equivalent
of smoking at least 10 cigarettes, and that a
single large cigar contains as much tobacco as a
pack of cigarettes. What's more, "mainstream"
cigar smoke (the smoke drawn into the mouth)
contains more of many toxic and cancer-causing
chemicals than cigarette smoke does. Even cigar
smokers who don't inhale are exposed to their
own environmental or passive smoke -- which has
been proved to be a risk factor for heart and
lung disease -- and just holding an unlit cigar
in your mouth can cause nicotine to be absorbed
into your body.
Q: What about chewing
tobacco? Is it safe?
A: No. Holding chewing tobacco in your
mouth can cause toxic chemicals to be absorbed
into your body. In addition, people who chew
tobacco have an increased risk of developing
Q: What is "passive" or
A: These terms refer to the smoke you
breathe in from other people's cigarettes,
cigars, or pipes -- or your own smoke, such as
when you're holding a lit cigarette and inhaling
the smoke indirectly. When you breathe other
people's smoke, even if you're not smoking
yourself, in a way you might as well be --
because the smoke is going into your lungs, too.
Q: I know that cigarette
and cigar smoke can cause disease in smokers.
How harmful is passive smoke?
A: Recent studies have shown small but
significant increases in risk of coronary heart
disease, lung disease, and cancer among
nonsmokers exposed to cigarette and cigar smoke
-- a risk that increases with higher levels and
longer duration of smoke exposure. Passive smoke
has also been linked with development of lung
cancer, heart attack, low birth weight, sudden
infant death syndrome (SIDS), bronchitis,
pneumonia, asthma, chronic respiratory problems,
eye and nasal irritation, and middle ear
infection. Children are particularly at risk for
the effects of passive smoke.
Q: I just got pregnant,
and I smoke. Is it true that smoking can hurt
the baby? Should I stop?
A: You're probably aware that smoking can
hurt you, mainly by greatly increasing
your risk of developing lung cancer and heart
disease. So you should stop smoking to protect
your own health as well as your baby's. When a
pregnant woman smokes, she exposes her baby to
the toxic chemicals in cigarette smoke,
including more than 40 cancer-causing agents. In
addition, medical research studies have shown
that pregnant women who smoke increase their
risk of such serious problems as miscarriage,
stillbirth, premature birth, low-birth-weight
babies, and lower intelligence in the children
they are carrying. There are even studies
showing that male children of mothers who smoke
during pregnancy are more likely to become
criminals when they grow up! Tell your
obstetrician you smoke, and follow his or her
advice on what you can safely do to stop -- and
improve your chances of having a healthy
pregnancy and a healthy baby.
Q: What's so wrong with a
teen-ager experimenting with smoking?
A: What's wrong is that cigarette smoking
isn't just bad for your health, it's also
addictive. Most teen-agers underestimate their
risk of becoming "hooked" on cigarettes -- until
it's too late. The truth is, among high school
seniors who smoke for 1 to 5 cigarettes a day, a
full 70% will still be smoking -- and risking
their health -- 5 years later. Even people who
have smoked as few as 100 cigarettes report that
they can't quit smoking. So why take the risk of
starting? Remember, the happy, carefree young
people you see in cigarette advertisements more
closely resemble people who don't smoke.
Q: What's being done to
stop teen-age smoking?
A: A number of different approaches are
being taken. First, there are legal restrictions
-- it is illegal to sell cigarettes or other
tobacco products to minors under age 18. Store
clerks are required by law to ask young adults
for proof of age -- and enforcement has
sometimes included "compliance checks" in which
government-employed minors (under adult
supervision) attempt to buy tobacco products.
Second, more and more states and communities are
putting programs into action to persuade young
people not to smoke. These often include
school-based education, media campaigns, and
youth community action. Third, it's important to
realize that reducing adult smoking can also
help reduce teen-age smoking. A recent study
showed that teen-agers who live in smoke-free
homes -- and/or have jobs in smoke-free
workplaces -- are significantly less likely to
smoke than those whose home or work environments
have no smoking restrictions. These findings
suggest that one of the most important things
parents can do to prevent their teen-agers from
smoking is to keep their home smoke-free.