From my experience and based on information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, I offer the following information:
Tobacco use causes a great increased risk of death. More deaths are caused by tobacco use — mostly in the form of cigarette smoking — than by HIV infection, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries, suicide and murders combined.
Cigarette smoking causes 1-in-5 deaths in the U.S. each year, with about 400,000 deaths attributable to direct smoking and about 50,000 deaths to indirect smoking, or secondhand smoke. On average, adults who smoke die 14 years sooner than nonsmokers. Between the years 1960 and 1990, deaths from lung cancer in women increased more than 500 percent.
Smoking damages nearly every organ in the human body. Here are some of the more common health problems caused by tobacco products:
• Cancer of the lung (at a rate 23 times higher than among nonsmokers)
• Cancers of the bladder, mouth, throat, vocal cords, esophagus, cervix, kidneys, pancreas and stomach and certain forms of leukemia
• Coronary heart disease, which usually leads to heart attacks
• Doubles the risk of a stroke
• Blockage of blood flow to legs and feet, sometimes requiring amputation
• A 10-times higher likelihood of dying from emphysema, a condition in which lung tissue is slowly destroyed by smoke
• Reproductive problems, such as infertility, early birth, stillbirth and impotency
• Decreased bone density in old age, leading to increased chance of fractures
Who smokes the estimated 371 billion cigarettes consumed yearly in the U.S.? Millions of people smoke cigarettes — 20 percent of all adults and 20 percent of all teenagers. Every single day, about 1,000 teenagers become smokers.
In 2005, cigarette manufacturers spent more than $13 billion on advertising to lure people into smoking.
But what is the cost to our financially precarious health care system? It is estimated that cigarette smoking costs us $96 billion yearly in health care expenditures and nearly $100 billion more in lost productivity.
I personally find all of this data shocking. We must take a firmer stand against the use of all tobacco products. We need do a better job to prevent our youth from beginning to smoke and to get those, young and old, who are already addicted to tobacco to quit.
I cannot sit in judgment of those who smoke, as I smoked for a number of years during my youth. I know how seemingly impossible it is to quit — I tried many times — but as I became more knowledgeable about the effects of smoking during my medical school training, I knew I had to quit.
One night, while working in the emergency room during my internship, I saw a patient who had developed cancer of his throat from years of smoking. He previously had a tracheotomy — a metal tube surgically inserted into his neck through which he could breathe.
When I saw him light up a cigarette in the waiting room and hold it up to his breathing tube so he could smoke, I quit right then and there and never smoked again. That was almost 40 years ago.
Yes, quitting was still a very difficult thing to do, but it’s the best thing I ever did for myself — and for my family and friends who love and care about me.
• Terry Hollenbeck, M.D., is an urgent-care physician at the Palo Alto Medical Foundation Santa Cruz in Scotts Valley. A doctor with 36 years’ experience, he invites readers to view his previous columns at valleydoctor.wordpress.com. Information in this column is not intended to replace advice from your health care professional. For any medical concern, consult your own doctor.