Smoking caused nearly 14 million major medical conditions, including those that people didn’t know about or failed to disclose, according to a recent federal government report. The latest figures surpass those the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) collected 10 years ago by more than 2 million.
Researchers combined 2009 U.S. Census Bureau data with national survey data related to smoking and disease prevalence between 2006 and 2012. Their findings showed that nearly 7 million people reported nearly 11 million smoking-related ailments that year. The most prevalent illnesses included chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart attack, diabetes, and a host of smoking-related cancers.
“That’s obviously an immense number,” lead author of the study Brian Rostron told Reuters Health. “It’s continuing to be a problem. Even if people are former smokers, they have lasting lung damage,” said Rostron, a representative of the Center for Tobacco Products at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
The CDC designates smoking as the leading cause of preventable death in the United States, killing more than 400,000 people annually — nearly one in five Americans. Experts say that smoking increases one’s risk of developing coronary heart disease, stroke, and lung cancer, and host of other ailments that slowly debilitate the cardiovascular system.
America’s healthcare infrastructure suffers a great deal as well: Smoking-related deaths and loss productivity due to hospitalization amounts to more than $198 billion in health care costs — nearly $4,260 per person — according to the American Heart Association.
While smoking has decreased among American adults by nearly 20 percent, its health effects haven’t discouraged the activity among teenagers. According to data collected by the CDC, nine of out 10 smokers said they picked up the habit before the age of 18. Many of these smokers will most likely face a fate similar to those before them. The federal agency predicts 5.6 million premature deaths among teen smokers nationwide — a group that increases by increments of 32,000 daily.
But not all the blame lies with young smokers. In recent decades, Big Tobacco has increased its efforts to appeal to its youngest customers. Today, the five largest cigarette companies spend a total of more than $34 million per day advertising their products in magazines and retail stores. And tobacco manufacturers have changed their products to include additional flavoring, sugars, and menthol that experts say mask the true flavor of the tobacco, making the activity more pleasurable for novice smokers.
Novice smokers have also turned to e-cigarettes — battery-powered vaporizers that produce a smoke-like aerosol to simulate the act of smoking — in increasing numbers. E-cigarette among youth has tripled between 2011 and 2013, despite its well-documented health risks that bear a striking similarity to that of cigarettes and other tobacco products. Despite tobacco companies’ claims that e-cigarettes serve as a safe alternative to traditional tobacco products, a recent study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that they do in fact encourage use of cigarettes among teenagers and young adults.
People of color aren’t safe from the barrage of messages from Big Tobacco, either. According to data compiled by the American Lung Association, African-American youth see 350 more tobacco advertisements annually than the overall average. In the early 2000s, magazine advertising expenditures for methanol cigarettes — a product some people say tobacco companies cater to communities of color — increased by more than 30 percentage points. It’s no surprise, therefore, that tobacco use poses a significant risk to poor Americans of color, with smoking-related ailments taking more lives than HIV, gun violence, and alcohol abuse combined.
That’s why public health officials, lawmakers, and public figures have gone to great lengths to spread awareness about tobacco’s health effects and curb the advertising of products to young people. Thirty states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico banned smoking in indoor public places. Some employers also offer smoking cessation programs with offerings that include counseling and referral to long-term services. Last month, congressional Democrats demanded that US Weekly, People, Time, Rolling Stone, and Entertainment Weekly cease its tobacco advertising.
While the odds seem stacked against anti-tobacco advocates, their efforts have not been in vain: an estimated 80 million lives have been saved since the Surgeon General’s 1964 report that first outlined smoking’s cancer risks.