When it comes to the health risks associated with smoking, the numbers are staggering. According to a Surgeon General’s report, around 480,000 people in the U.S. die each year due to tobacco use. Worldwide, that number reaches about 5.7 million. It’s also estimated that 5.6 million Americans who are currently younger than 18 will end up dying prematurely from smoking-related illnesses if current rates stay the same. Perhaps even worse, 2.5 million out of the 20 million people that have died due to smoking since 1964 were non-smokers who succumbed to diseases related to secondhand smoke. A decade ago, the CDC estimated that 12.7 million medical conditions in the U.S. could be attributed to smoking. Now, however, a new study shows that the number has reached 14 million. The worst part about all of this, of course, is that smoking-related illnesses are entirely preventable.
14 Million Could Actually Be A Conservative Estimate
The new study, published this week in the Journal of the American Medial Association, examined data from national surveys regarding the prevalence of smoking and disease from 2006 to 2012, as well as U.S. Census Bureau data from 2009. It was found that around 7 million people reported a total of nearly 11 million smoking-related illnesses. Researchers deemed the number would be closer to 14 million when accounting for conditions that people didn’t know they had or that went unreported. However, Steven A. Schroeder, an MD with the UCSF Department of Medicine, stated in a commentary piece that the current estimates may actually still be too low.
So why exactly would smoking-related illnesses be on the rise when smoking rates have reached historic lows in recent years? Well, according to Schroeder, earlier illness rate estimates may simply have been too low due to the fact that diseases such as diabetes often “progress slowly before diagnosis occurs.” Also, there is a well-known lag time between a decline in smoking rates and a reduction in smoking-related illnesses. Schroeder points out that it took three decades for lung cancer rates to fall after smoking rates started to decrease in the U.S.
COPD is the Biggest Risk
Many people associate smoking with cancer, and rightly so. Smoking can lead to cancer of the lungs, colon, bladder, esophagus, kidney, cervix, mouth, lip, throat, tongue and larynx. However, there are several smoking-related illnesses that are much more prevalent. The study found that chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) was the most-reported condition. COPD causes poor airflow to the lungs, leading to chronic cough and shortness of breath. The condition often gets worse over time and can lead to premature death. This latest study found:
- 4.3 million cases of COPD
- 2.3 million smoking-related heart attacks
- 1.8 million diabetes cases
- 1.1 million strokes
- Just over a million cases of cancer
Researchers found that people were most likely to let their COPD go unreported.
Smoking-Related Illnesses: The Bottom Line
Smoking presents huge health dangers for both smokers and non-smokers. If there’s any good news regarding this report, it’s that the number of smoking-related illnesses will likely go down once they begin to reflect the recent reduction in overall smoking rates. That could take many years, however. Although it’s basically common sense at this point, the best advice for anybody who is even remotely concerned about their health is to stop smoking and to try avoiding secondhand smoke as much as possible.