Washington, May 28: Cigarette smoking harms nearly every human organ, the federal government reported yesterday in its most comprehensive look at the dangers of tobacco in three years.
Forty years after the ground-breaking surgeon general’s study that alerted Americans to the cancer risk of cigarettes, the current surgeon general issued a report that linked smoking to more illnesses than previously known. Dr Richard H. Carmona reported that cigarettes offering lower tar and nicotine than conventional-strength cigarettes provide no clear health benefits.
Taken together, the surgeon general’s study and a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention portray a nation making small gains in its fight against tobacco: for the first time, more people who say they have smoked count themselves as former smokers than as current smokers. And over four decades, the percentage of smokers has been cut nearly in half.
The surgeon general’s report found that as scientific knowledge has expanded, the dangers of cigarettes have grown more apparent. They go far beyond the well-documented circulatory and respiratory illnesses to include risks to reproductive organs, kidneys and vision, Carmona said. His report also found that a higher number of specific types of cancer are fuelled by smoking than earlier reports had stated.
To the list of illnesses and conditions linked to smoking, the surgeon general added cataracts, pneumonia, acute myeloid leukemia, abdominal aortic aneurysms, periodontitis (an inflammation of gum tissue) and cancers of the stomach, pancreas, cervix and kidney.
Nicotine is found in breast milk, Carmona said, and babies exposed to second-hand smoke are twice as likely to be victims of sudden infant death syndrome as those not exposed to it. Infants whose mothers smoked before and after birth “are at three or four times greater risk”, he said.
The report said women who smoke shorten their lives by an average of 14.5 years, and that the average loss for male smokers is 13.2 years.
“We’ve known for decades that smoking is bad for your health, but this report shows that it’s even worse,” Carmona said. “The toxins from cigarette smoke go everywhere the blood flows.”
And, he added: “There is no safe cigarette, whether it is called ‘light’, ‘ultra-light’ or any other name.”
M. Cass Wheeler, president of the American Heart Association, said the surgeon general’s report should inspire stronger anti-tobacco action by the federal and the state governments.
“Tobacco remains the nation’s most unregulated consumer product,” he said, noting that Congress was considering legislation that would give the food and drug administration the authority to regulate cigarettes and other tobacco products.
On the state level, he called for increased taxes, comprehensive smoking bans and the use of money from the settlement agreement between the states and tobacco companies to fund more anti-smoking programmes.
“The science is unequivocal in each of these areas: They all reduce tobacco consumption and save lives,” Wheeler said.
Brendan McCormick, a spokesman for cigarette-maker Phillip Morris USA, said: “We agree with the medical and scientific conclusions that cigarette smoking causes serious diseases in smokers, and that there is no such thing as a safe cigarette.”
Seth Moskowitz, a spokesman for R.J. Reynolds, said of the surgeon general’s report: “We’ve no comment on it. We’re just not commenting on it.”