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- THE LEGACY OF HENRIETTA LACKS: posted on January 19, 2021
Smoking and Cancer Prevention
Smoking is the number one preventable cause of death globally. It is well-understood to be a cause of cancer, heart disease, lung disease, and stroke. Smoking causes 8 million deaths each year, with about 1.2 million of those due to secondhand smoke.
“Cigarettes are the only product that kills up to 50 percent of its users, even when used as recommended by the manufacturer.” (World Health Organization)
Smoking rates vary widely around the globe, and are often very different between women and men. In places where many people smoke, there may be a perception that it is not that dangerous. However, the association between smoking and cancer, specifically lung cancer, was established more than 45 years ago. In the decades since, the evidence about the health harms of tobacco has only grown. Tobacco is shown to increase the risk of 16 kinds of cancers, and it is the cause of the vast majority of lung cancers. While it may be obvious to us that lung disease arises from smoking, it is important to remember that inhalation of smoke transfers toxins directly into our bloodstream.
Smoking increases the risk of blindness, emphysema, asthma, and stroke. Tobacco poisons the whole body.
The Link Between Smoking and Cancer
How does smoking cause cancer?
Tobacco smoke contains more than 7000 chemicals. About 250 of these chemicals are known to be harmful, and at least 70 are classified as group 1 carcinogens, meaning they cause cancer. All these chemicals are inhaled deep into the lungs, where they are absorbed into the bloodstream, traveling to every organ of the body. It is for this reason that tobacco affects almost all organs.
Cancers caused by smoking
Smoking causes cancer of the:
- Bowel, colon
- Bladder, ureter
- Cervix and ovary
Smoking is also one of the major causes of acute myeloid leukemia, a cancer of the blood and bone marrow.
MYTHS RELATED TO SMOKING & CANCER
It is very well established that smoking is the number one preventable cause of death. It causes cancers throughout the body, as well as many other diseases that greatly impact the quality of life and it can be deadly. However, it can be very difficult for people to quit smoking. Many people still believe in myths related to smoking. Let’s debunk them.
“My father used to smoke, and he lived up to 70 years and had no cancer. Genetically, I’m safe from the health effects of smoking.”
Wrong. You still have a high risk of smoking-related illnesses, be it cancer, heart disease, stroke, or a respiratory illness. Secondhand and thirdhand smokes are also dangerous to those around you because it causes cancer, asthma, stroke, and heart disease.
Those who smoke one pack of cigarettes a day have a 6 times higher risk of stroke compared to non-smokers, according to The Stroke Association (UK).
Smokeless tobacco doesn’t cause cancer.
Well, smokeless tobacco might be a little less harmful and may not contribute that significantly to incidence of lung cancer, but it is much more likely to result in other cancers, like mouth cancers.
Light, “ultra-light,” or mild cigarettes are OK to use.
There is no such thing as light or ultra-light cigarette. This is a marketing tactic intended to make people think these products are safer. When smoking “light” cigarettes, you are exposed to the same chemicals that are present in a regular cigarette.
I am safe if I don’t smoke.
Sadly, that’s not true. Secondhand smoke (also known as passive smoke, involuntary smoke, and environmental tobacco smoke) is not safe at any level.
Secondhand smoke causes cancer in individuals who do NOT smoke. Non-smokers exposed to smoke at work or home have a 20–30 percent greater risk of developing lung cancer. Similarly, passive smoking increases the risk of breast cancer in women.
Secondhand smoke is particularly dangerous to pregnant women, infants, and children. Child inhalation of secondhand smoke is tied to ear infections, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, and respiratory infections.
Vaping, or using e-cigarettes, is a totally safe alternative to smoking.
Research is not yet conclusive on the long-term effects of e-cigarette use. To call the substance inhaled a “vapor” is misleading. What people inhale from an e-cigarette is actually aerosol. An aerosol can contain hundreds of chemicals, ultra-fine particulates and heavy metals including lead that travel deep into the lungs., There is already emerging evidence linking e-cigarette use to chronic lung disease and asthma. The nicotine contained in e-cigarettes can be extremely addictive, and should not be used by youth, as nicotine itself is damaging to the developing brain.
Some of the harm from cigarettes comes from burning tobacco leaves and inhaling the smoke. Many scientists believe that smokers who switch to only using e-cigarettes may be lowering their risk of health harms.
Benefits of Quitting Smoking
According to Johns Hopkins Medicine,
- If you quit smoking before the age of 40, your risk of dying prematurely from smoking-related diseases is reduced by more than 80 percent.
- If you quit before the age of 54, you reduce your risk by 75 percent
- If you quit after being diagnosed with cancer, you are more likely to respond to cancer treatment in a better way, and that reduces the risk of death from cancer by up to 40 percent.
Your health matters; to you and to your loved ones. When you’re ready to quit, there are likely resources available to help. Remember that quitting is tough, and it may take several tries. Do not be discouraged if you find it difficult.