Categorized | Safety Info

Cigarette Smoking & Cancer Risks

Posted on 19 January 2009 by Monica Zech

Key Points

Cigarette smoking causes 87 percent of lung cancer deaths and is responsible for most cancers of the larynx, oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus, and bladder (see Question 1).

Secondhand smoke is responsible for an estimated 3,000 lung cancer deaths among U.S. nonsmokers each year (see Question 2).

Tobacco smoke contains thousands of chemical agents, including over 60 substances that are known to cause cancer (see Question 3).

The risk of developing smoking-related cancers, as well as noncancerous diseases, increases with total lifetime exposure to cigarette smoke (see Question 4).

Smoking cessation has major and immediate health benefits, including decreasing the risk of lung and other cancers, heart attack, stroke, and chronic lung disease (see Question 5).

Tobacco use, particularly cigarette smoking, is the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Cigarette smoking alone is directly responsible for approximately 30 percent of all cancer deaths annually in the United States

(1). Cigarette smoking also causes chronic lung disease (emphysema and chronic bronchitis), cardiovascular disease, stroke, and cataracts. Smoking during pregnancy can cause stillbirth, low birthweight, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and other serious pregnancy complications

(2). Quitting smoking greatly reduces a person’s risk of developing the diseases mentioned, and can limit adverse health effects on the developing child.

What are the effects of cigarette smoking on cancer rates? – Answer: Cigarette smoking causes 87 percent of lung cancer deaths

(1). Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women (3). Smoking is also responsible for most cancers of the larynx, oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus, and bladder. In addition, it is a cause of kidney, pancreatic, cervical, and stomach cancers (2, 4), as well as acute myeloid leukemia (2).

Are there any health risks for nonsmokers?

The health risks caused by cigarette smoking are not limited to smokers. Exposure to secondhand smoke, or environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), significantly increases the risk of lung cancer and heart disease in nonsmokers, as well as several respiratory illnesses in young children (5).

(Secondhand smoke is a combination of the smoke that is released from the end of a burning cigarette and the smoke exhaled from the lungs of smokers.)

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute of Environmental Health Science’s National Toxicology Program, and the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) have all classified secondhand smoke as a known human carcinogen – a category reserved for agents for which there is sufficient scientific evidence that they cause cancer (5, 6, 7).

The U.S. EPA has estimated that exposure to secondhand smoke causes about 3,000 lung cancer deaths among nonsmokers and is responsible for up to 300,000 cases of lower respiratory tract infections in children up to 18 months of age in the United States each year (5).

For additional information on ETS, see the NCI fact sheet Environmental Tobacco Smoke, which can be found at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/ETS on the Internet.

What harmful chemicals are found in cigarette smoke?

Cigarette smoke contains about 4,000 chemical agents, including over 60 carcinogens (8).

In addition, many of these substances, such as carbon monoxide, tar, arsenic, and lead, are poisonous and toxic to the human body. Nicotine is a drug that is naturally present in the tobacco plant and is primarily responsible for a person’s addiction to tobacco products, including cigarettes. During smoking, nicotine is absorbed quickly into the bloodstream and travels to the brain in a matter of seconds. Nicotine causes addiction to cigarettes and other tobacco products that is similar to the addiction produced by using heroin and cocaine (9).

How does exposure to tobacco smoke affect the cigarette smoker?

Smoking harms nearly every major organ of the body (2). The risk of developing smoking-related diseases, such as lung and other cancers, heart disease, stroke, and respiratory illnesses, increases with total lifetime exposure to cigarette smoke (7). This includes the number of cigarettes a person smokes each day, the intensity of smoking (i.e., the size and frequency of puffs, the age at which smoking began, the number of years a person has smoked, and a smoker’s secondhand smoke exposure.

How would quitting smoking affect the risk of developing cancer and other diseases?

Smoking cessation has major and immediate health benefits for men and women of all ages. Quitting smoking decreases the risk of lung and other cancers, heart attack, stroke, and chronic lung disease. The earlier a person quits, the greater the health benefit. For example, research has shown that people who quit before age 50 reduce their risk of dying in the next 15 years by half compared with those who continue to smoke (3). Smoking low-yield cigarettes, as compared to cigarettes with higher tar and nicotine, provides no clear benefit to health (2). For additional information on quitting smoking, see the NCI fact sheet Questions and Answers About Smoking Cessation, which can be found at www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/cessation on the Internet.

What additional resources are available?

For additional information about cancer or tobacco use, call 1-800-4-CANCER or visit the NCI’s Web site about tobacco at http://www.cancer.gov/cancerinfo/tobacco on the Internet.

For help with quitting smoking, call NCI’s smoking cessation quitline at 1-877-44U-QUIT or visit NCI’s smoking cessation Web site at http://www.smokefree.gov on the Internet.

Information about the health risks of smoking is also available from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Office on Smoking and Health (OSH) at 1-800-CDC-1311 (1-800-232-1311) or via their Web site at http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco on the Internet.

Selected References

Ries LAG, Eisner MP, Kosary CL, et al. (eds). SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975-2001, National Cancer Institute. Bethesda, MD, 2004 (http://seer.cancer.gov/csr/1975_2001).

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Smoking: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2004.

American Cancer Society. Cancer Facts and Figures 2004. Atlanta, GA: American Cancer Society, 2004.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Targeting Tobacco Use: The Nation’s Leading Cause of Death. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2003.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Respiratory Health Effects of Passive Smoking: Lung Cancer and Other Disorders. Washington, DC: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 1992.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Report on Carcinogens: Tenth Edition. Research Triangle Park, NC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Toxicology Program, 2002.

International Agency for Research on Cancer. Tobacco Smoke and Involuntary Smoking. IARC Monographs on the Evaluation of Carcinogenic Risks to Humans, Vol. 83. Lyon, France, 2004.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco Use in the United States. Retrieved September 30, 2003, from: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/overview/tobus_us.htm.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Nicotine Addiction: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control, Center for Health Promotion and Education, Office on Smoking and Health, 1988.

Related Resources
Publications (available at http://www.cancer.gov/publications)

Cigars

6 Things You Should Know About Cigar Smoking
From Terry Martin,

Your Guide to Smoking Cessation

The Health Hazards of Smoking Cigars

It’s a common misconception that cigar smoking is less dangerous than cigarette smoking. The truth of the matter is that cigars are dangerous and every bit as deadly as cigarettes. However, because upwards of 75 percent of cigar smokers are occasional smokers, they are generally exposed to smaller quantities of the poisons and carcinogens present in cigars than cigarette smokers are with their cigarettes. It’s because of this that there are fewer instances of disease and fatality due to cigar smoking.

6 Facts You Should Know About Cigars

1. One cigar may contain as much tobacco as an entire pack of cigarettes.

A single cigarette usually contains less than a gram of tobacco, while cigars, which vary in size and shape, can have between 5 and 17 grams of tobacco.

2. Cigars are Addictive.

The amount of nicotine in a single cigar is many times greater than what is found in a cigarette.

A typical cigarette contains approximately 8 milligrams of nicotine, while an average cigar has between 100 and 200 milligrams of nicotine, and some have upwards of 400 milligrams. Cigar smoke is more alkaline than cigarette smoke. It readily breaks down in saliva, allowing the smoker to easily absorb nicotine through the lining of the mouth in quantities sufficient to cause addiction.

3. Cigar smoke is more concentrated and toxic than cigarette smoke.

ETS from cigar smoke varies from that of cigarette smoke for a couple of reasons. First, the manufacturing process for cigars requires a fermentation period. During this time, high concentrations of tobacco-specific nitrosamines (TSNA) are produced. TSNA are some of the most carcinogenic compounds known to man. Secondly, cigar wrappers are not as porous as cigarette wrappers, making the combustion of a cigar less complete. These two factors result in higher concentrations of nitrogen oxides, ammonia, carbon monoxide and tar in cigars than in cigarettes.

4. Smoking as little as one cigar a day increases the risk for cancer.

Cigar smoking has been linked to several different cancers, most notably those of the oral cavity, which include lip, tongue, mouth, throat and larynx. Cigar smokers are also at an increased risk for lung cancer and cancers of the pancreas and bladder.

5. Cigar and pipe smokers are at risk for early tooth loss.

In a study published in the January 1999 issue of the Journal of the American Dental Association, it was discovered that cigar and pipe smokers are at an increased risk for early tooth loss, compared to that of their nonsmoking counterparts. Cigar and pipe smokers are also at an increased risk for alveolar bone loss.

6. Cigar smoking has been linked to erectile dysfunction in men.

Smokers are twice as likely to be impotent as nonsmokers due to the adverse effects smoking has on circulation, hormones and the nervous system. Cigar smoking and exposure to second hand smoke in particular have been shown to be significant risk factors for erectile dysfunction.

Steer clear of cigars, and avoid the second hand smoke they produce.

There is no such thing as a safe tobacco product!

Sources:
Questions and Answers about Cigar Smoking National Cancer Institute
Action on Smoking and Health

Krall, Elizabeth et al. Alveloar Bone Loss and Tooth Loss in Male Cigar and Pipe Smokers Journal of the American Dental Association 1999 Jan;130(1):57

Feldman HA et al. Erectile Dysfunction and Coronary Risk Factors: Prospective Results from the Massachusetts Male Aging Study Preventive Medicine 2000; 30: 328-338. Updated: July 10, 2006

Terry Martin, About.com’s Guide to Smoking Cessation since 2003, quit smoking cigarettes in 2001 after 26 years of nicotine addiction. She is now dedicated to helping others to do the same.

About.com is accredited by the Health On the Net Foundation, which promotes reliable and trusted online health information.Important disclaimer information about this About site.

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