Living Well: No amount of nicotine use is safe at any age
- Smoking causes about 90% (or 9 out of 10) of all lung cancer deaths.
- More than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the United States.
- More women die from lung cancer each year than from breast cancer.
- Smoking causes more deaths each year than the following causes combined:
- Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States. This is nearly one in five deaths.
- Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.
- Smoking causes about 80% (or 8 out of 10) of all deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
- Cigarette smoking increases risk for death from all causes in men and women.
- The risk of dying from cigarette smoking has increased over the last 50 years in the U.S.
Despite the warnings, despite countless studies telling us that smoking kills and despite smoking being responsible for one in five deaths every year in the United States, more than 34 million adults in the U.S. currently smoke.
In Craig, smoking and vaping is a fairly common sight, said Memorial Regional Health Respiratory Therapist Anessa Kopsa.
The most common smoking-related conditions that Kopsa sees are asthma, pneumonia and COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), but the full list of possible smoking-related illnesses is long.
“If your lungs are not healthy, you cannot live a good quality of life,” she said. “If you cannot breathe good air in and get bad air out, it affects your whole body and how it functions.”
The U.S. Surgeon General reports that at least 70 of the chemicals in cigarette smoke are known carcinogens, meaning they have been proven to cause cancer. Smoking has been linked to diseases in nearly all organs in the body, and smoking remains the single largest cause of preventable disease and death in the U.S.
Starting young is especially dangerous
Tobacco use in any form is particularly concerning for youth. The human brain is still developing until about the age of 25, so any substances used during this time can have lifelong consequences.
“Each time a new memory is created or a new skill is learned, stronger connections — or synapses — are built between brain cells,” according to the U.S. Surgeon General. “Young people’s brains build synapses faster than adult brains. Because addiction is a form of learning, adolescents can get addicted more easily than adults. The nicotine in e-cigarettes and other tobacco products can also prime the adolescent brain for addiction to other drugs, such as cocaine.”
Kopsa said vaping, which is the use of e-cigarettes, is an issue for youth because of the consequences of trying nicotine at a young age.
“It starts the (addiction) process early — most young people who smoke continue to do so as an adult. It’s not only the smoking that is the issue, it is the addiction to the nicotine,” Kopsa said. “The vaping juice is not FDA-regulated, so the juice may say it only contains 5 percent nicotine when it actually could contain 17 percent. Inhaling an oil causes ‘popcorn lung,’ which might be worse than COPD.”
The CDC reports that the only people who should consider using e-cigarettes are people who already smoke. For these folks, e-cigarettes are not as bad as regular ones, but that doesn’t make them good.
Preventable illness and death
In the United States, smoking causes 87 percent of lung cancer deaths, 79 percent of COPD cases and 32 percent of coronary heart disease deaths, according to the Surgeon General.
It is estimated that smokers, on average, lose more than a decade of life. One out of three cancer deaths is also caused by smoking.
“Tobacco leaves a tar in your lungs; it kills all the cilia that help move mucus out of the lungs, making smokers more susceptible to infections,” Kopsa said. “There is no reversing lung damage. You can slow it down by stopping smoking, but it is never cured.”
Legal marijuana in Colorado is bad news for lung disease, too, according to Kopsa. One joint, she said, is worse than smoking 100 cigarettes.
“I see this population with a much younger generation of COPD patients,” she said.