An estimated 440,000 Americans died prematurely every year because of tobacco products. It is the leading preventable cause of death in the US. It contributes to making other illnesses worse and recovery more difficult.
About 45 million Americans smoke, and two-thirds of them want to quite said David E. Ransohoff, MD, the chair of the NIH panel on Tobacco Use: Prevention, Cessation that met in June. 'Many have tried to quite, but fewer than 5 percent succeed each year,'
'There is not risk-free level of exposure to secondhand smoke,' U.S. Surgeon General Richard H. Carmona said a few weeks later in releasing his report on the subject. 'Nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.'
'Breathing secondhand smoke for even a short time can damage cells and set the cancer process in motion. Brief exposure can have immediate harmful effects on blood vessels, potentially increasing the risk of a heart attack.'
Manuela Martins-Green a researcher at the University of California, Riverside, has found, 'Nicotine, tar, nitric oxide, and carbon monoxide levels are at least two times more abundant in second-hand smoke than in what is inhaled through a filter cigarette. Carcinogenic aromatics form more readily in secondhand smoke.
Working with cell cultures, she saw that the byproducts of secondhand smoke inhibit the movement of proteins necessary to close up wounds, and also results in more scarring. That's why most surgeons request that a patient stop smoking at least a month prior to elective surgery.
There are no butts about it—smoking itself increases the risk of erectile dysfunction by more than 50 percent, if you smoke a pack a day or more.
Smoking and drinking also seem to go hand in hand. Some observers have written it off to an 'addictive personality,' but there may be more to it than that. Researchers at the Texas A&M Health Science Center found that rats given the amount of nicotine consumed by a typical smoker had reduced blood alcohol concentrations.
'Since the alcohol buzz is significantly diminished by nicotine, particularly among heavy or binge drinkers such as college students, this may encourage drinkers to drink more to achieve that same effect,' said professor Wei-Jung A. Chen. 'In other words, cigarette smoking appears to promote the consumption of alcohol.'
Nicotine itself has come under indictment. While it does not by itself cause cancer, new findings from the University of South Florida show that nicotine appears to activate major components of the cell proliferation cycle. This allows lung cancer cells to grow faster.
Additional research by Lauren Wakschlag at the University of Illinois at Chicago, published in July in the journal Child Development revealed that the effects of smoking during pregnancy can be seen in children as young as 18-24 months of age.
The children of smoking mothers had more disruptive behavior, and it was social rather than emotional in nature. Exposed toddlers were significantly more likely to exhibit aggressive behavior and to stubbornly refuse to follow direction. They also were less likely to seek out and participate in playful social interactions with their mothers.
The Surgeon General's report and other information on secondhand smoke are available at: www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/secondhandsmoke.