Smokers often underestimate the severity of risks |

Smokers often underestimate the severity of risks

When the health consequences of smoking aren’t always immediate, people tend to forget how serious they can get

By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Memorial Regional Health

Smoking risks
CDC/Office on Smoking and Health

You can quit

People who stop smoking greatly reduce their risk for disease and early death. Want to quit smoking? There are resources available to you, including:

  • Cessation resources at Memorial Regional Health: Cardiopulmonary Department, 970-826-2210.
  • Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) if you want help quitting. This is a free telephone support service that can help people who want to stop smoking or using tobacco.

Smoking kills

  • Cigarette smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States. This is nearly one in five deaths.
  • Smoking causes more deaths each year than the following causes combined:

Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV)

Illegal drug use

Alcohol use

Motor vehicle injuries

Firearm-related incidents

  • 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.
  • Smoking causes about 90% (or 9 out of 10) of all lung cancer deaths.
  • More women die from lung cancer each year than from breast cancer.
  • 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.

*Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Some smokers end up having to carry portable oxygen, seriously impacting their ability to get around and participate in daily activities. Others might end up with cancers in the mouth or lungs, stroke, heart disease or a list of countless other life-threatening diseases.

The effects are life-threatening, debilitating and sometimes just plain gross. Tobacco smoke contains a deadly mix of more than 7,000 chemicals, of which hundreds are harmful and about 70 can cause cancer, according to the CDC. And, despite myths that e-cigarettes are safe, these devices carry many of the same health risks.

“Imagine how having to carry a backpack with a breathing machine limits the ability to participate in activities with their family, travel, and enjoy their life,” said Dr. Nicole Johnson, a Rapid Care physician in Craig and Steamboat. “These patients can be in and out of the hospital due to serious infections, such as pneumonia, and complications from their COPD.  Eventually, it will lead to their death.”

Tobacco use is a leading cause of preventable death in the United States and the numbers of diseases associated with it are staggering — yet 38 million adults in America still smoke, and the number of youth using tobacco products is increasing at alarming rates. The number of American middle and high school students who used a tobacco product in the last 30 days increased from 3.6 million users to 4.9 million users between 2017 and 2018, driven largely by e-cigarette use.

Mild to severe

Cigarette smoke contains numerous chemicals that are poisonous to the body, causing COPD, cancers and more.

Most people think of the simple effects of early aging, teeth discoloration, and then think lung cancer after several years of cigarette smoking, but don’t often understand that smoking can cause impacts on every major organ system,” Johnson said. “The effects of smoking aren’t just limited to the smoker, but also affects people exposed to second-hand smoke.”

As a medical professional, Johnson has seen a lot of health consequences from smoking. She’s seen patients who develop lung cancers that require portions of their lungs and multiple surgeries to remove cancer that has spread to other parts of their body.

“If they do survive, they are left scarred and with limited breathing capacity which dramatically affects their lifestyle and puts them at higher risk of infections,” she said. “I have seen patients develop growths on their tongues and then had to deal with the aftermath of losing the ability to speak from losing their tongues, or having portions of their vocal cords removed from oral cancer and throat cancer.”

Out of sight, out of mind

Smoking’s major risks and dangers aren’t immediate, which can create a false sense of safety. For youth, the implications of smoking include things like financial impacts, lifelong addiction dangers, lost employment opportunities and more. Unfortunately, those consequences are often not anticipated in advance.

“Teens also don’t understand the financial impact of starting a habit of smoking. This includes ranging from the cost of buying cigarettes to the fact that many organizations will not hire you if you are smoker or vaper due to the increased cost of the associated medical complications,” Johnson said. “Moreover, the cost of dealing with the complications related to smoking such as the medications required to help COPD, hospitalizations, oxygen supplies, and more are things a teenager does not think about. Since their peer groups are not dealing with the immediate adverse health effects they don’t see the global impact the habit of smoking causes.”

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