How bad is smoking, vaping for your health? Three things to know

There’s some evidence that suggests we are winning the war against smoking.

In the 1950s, nearly half of all American adults were cigarette smokers. That number has declined progressively from 20.9% smokers in 2005 to 11.5% today. While that’s progress, there are still an estimated 28.3 million adult Americans who currently smoke cigarettes, and more than half of these live with smoking-related diseases, including cancer, heart disease, stroke, lung diseases, diabetes, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

In short, cigarette smoking is still the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S. But with so many fewer smokers than in the past, how is that possible?

How many people die each year from cigarette smoking?

In this country, we struggle with deaths linked to substance abuse, gun violence, and auto accidents. However, cigarette smoking remains the leading cause of preventable disease, disability, and death in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, causing more than 480,000 deaths each year.

Here is more context: many women greatly fear breast cancer, but more women die of lung cancer each year, and smoking is responsible for 90% of lung cancer deaths. However, smoking is not limited to causing cancer in the lungs. It can also cause cancer almost anywhere in the bladder, cervix, colon, esophagus, larynx, kidneys, liver, throat, tongue, pancreas, and stomach.

Folks often say they wish there was a cure for cancer. How’s this? One out of three cancer deaths in the U.S. could be prevented if no one smoked.

How does smoking impact your health?

And let’s not forget about the impact of smoking on mom and the baby she is carrying. Smoking while pregnant can promote premature delivery, stillbirth, ectopic pregnancy, orofacial clefts, and low birth weight. And for dads, smoking can impact sperm, contributing to birth defects and miscarriage.

Topping it off, smoking can weaken bones, destroy the health of gums and cause teeth loss, increase the risk of cataracts and macular degeneration, promote inflammation, decrease immune function, and contribute to Type 2 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis.

All told, the power of smoking to destroy health is amazing. Thankfully, quitting reduces risk, but it takes many years to reduce risk back to levels associated with non-smokers. To maximize risk reduction, combine smoking cessation with improvement on the other risk factors ― improve your diet, start exercising, and lose weight.

And, of course, by far the most important thing you can do is to not start smoking in the first place. That’s the critical message to our nation’s youth, but are we losing that battle with the proliferation of e-cigarettes?

Does vaping impact your health?

E-cigarettes are battery-powered electronic cigarettes that simulate the feeling of smoking without tobacco. As they have gained popularity, particularly among youth, an alarming fact has surfaced. A recent study said Kentucky ranked No. 1, tied with Oklahoma, for the state with the highest number of adults using e-cigarettes daily.

E-cigarettes are considered to be the “in-thing,” and many teens with no intention of becoming smokers are picking up the habit of vaping. But, is there evidence that vaping opens the door to cigarette smoking? Yes. E-cigarettes that contain nicotine are as addictive as tobacco cigarettes, and several research studies support the fact that young people who vape are more likely to smoke tobacco cigarettes in the future.

Does this mean that if there is not a progression to cigarette smoking, continuing with e-cigarettes is OK? In fairness, more research is needed to determine the short and long-term health effects of e-cigarettes, but the available evidence argues against the use of e-cigarettes.

For example, e-cigarettes and tobacco cigarettes are essentially nicotine dispensers. This, alone, is a problem because nicotine is not only highly addictive, it can harm adolescent brain development. On top of this, deeply inhaling ultrafine particles combined with chemicals used to enhance the taste of e-cigarettes is linked to serious lung disease. It is suspected that the volatile organic compounds (benzene, formaldehyde, etc.) and heavy metals (nickel, tine, lead, etc.) associated with e-cigarettes can cause not only lung damage but damage to the heart and brain.

I’m certain we will be hearing a lot more about these issues in the future. For now, a word to parents. All indications are that e-cigarettes are bad news, especially if they lead to smoking in those who had no intention of smoking. It’s an issue that should be taken very seriously.

Reach Bryant Stamford, a professor of kinesiology and integrative physiology at Hanover College, at [email protected].

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