I believe the most important thing an individual can do for his or
her health is to not smoke. Smoking has been identified as the most
important preventable cause of disease and premature death by the U.S.
Surgeon General. There are over 350,000 deaths each year that are directly
related to smoking. This is more than the total number of American lives
lost in World War I, Korea and Vietnam combined. Twenty-three percent
of the adult population smoke.
Smoking mainly causes death through heart attacks, cancer, and lung
disease. Five and one-half minutes of life are lost for each cigarette
smoked. This reduces the overall life expectancy by 5-8 years. The lifetime
medical costs for smokers, despite their shorter lives, are higher than
those for nonsmokers by approximately one third. What these figures
do not reflect is the quality of life. These people are miserable in
their later years. I have patients who are actually short of breath
while sitting still. They cannot do anything physical and just seem
to exist. The direct health-care costs associated with smoking are in
excess of 16 billion dollars. Nonsmokers contribute one hundred dollars
per year to take care of smoking induced illnesses. We pay this primarily
through taxes and insurance premiums. Smoking directly causes thirty
to forty percent of the 565,000 deaths from heart disease each year.
Women who smoke and take birth control pills have a ten times greater
risk of dying from a heart attack than nonsmokers. Your chance of developing
lung cancer is increased 11 times if you smoke. The nonsmoking spouse
of a smoker has double the chance of developing lung cancer just from
being exposed to his or her spouse's smoke.
Lung cancer causes over one-fourth of all cancer deaths making it the
most common cause of death from cancer. Lung cancer can't be detected
early and we are not even close to a cure. The last "big break
through" was in treating oat cell lung cancer. Instead of dying
3-6 months after the diagnosis, you can now live up to 18 months. Again,
these figures do not reflect the quality of life. The chemotherapy alone
causes extreme nausea and vomiting. Smoking also causes cancer of the
larynx, mouth, esophagus (which is the feeding tube) and the bladder.
Smoking increases the risk of developing chronic lung disease by 30
times. Children of smokers get more colds and have a 70% greater chance
of being hospitalized for respiratory conditions than children of nonsmokers.
Smoking during pregnancy results in smaller infants and there is an
increase in early fetal and neonatal deaths. Smoking is a type of immune
deficiency. The body has difficulty fighting off diseases. This is why
smokers seem to get more infections than nonsmokers. After you quit
smoking it takes about 10-15 years before your chance of getting cancer
is about the same as nonsmokers. Nicorette chewing gum helps improve
the quitting rate by about 50 percent. The nicotine containing patches
are helpful also. There are some medications that also help one stop
smoking, but there must be a strong desire to quit.
1. Wiedermann BL, et al. Lyme Disease. Griffith' 5 Minute Clinical Consult.
2004, Electronic version 4.0.139.
2. Fielding JE. Smoking: health effects and control (1). N Engl J Med
1985 Aug 22;313(8):491-97
3. Fielding JE. Smoking: health effects and control (2). N Engl J Med
1985 Aug 29;313(9):555-61
4. Fries JF, ET AL. Reducing health care costs by reducing the need
and demand for medical services. N Engl J Med 1993 July 29;329(5):321-325
The information provided above is offered as a community service about
health-care issues and is not a substitute for individual consultation.
Advice on individual problems should be obtained from your personal
physician. This information is based on research by the author and represents
his interpretation of the literature.
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Readers may send questions to our
email address. This column is for informational purposes only and
is not a substitute for professional or medical advice.
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