Residents who smoke cigarettes and who made quitting their No. 1 resolution for 2014 made a wise decision. And if they’ve already stumbled, we urge them to try again — and as often as it takes to finally break the habit.
Americans have known for decades that smoking is harmful to our health. We’ve known that since the 1964 surgeon general’s report on the topic. We’ve learned more in the intervening years, including that second-hand smoke — always an irritant — also is harmful to people who inhale it.
The most recent surgeon general’s report contains new and alarming information about how much harm smoking causes.
For starters, smoking kills 480,000 Americans a year — almost 40,000 more people than had been estimated. One reason the estimates have risen is that smoking has been linked — sometimes as a cause, other times as a contributing factor — to a growing list of diseases.
In addition to lung cancer, bladder cancer, cervical cancer and heart disease, it also causes colo-rectal and liver cancer and diabetes. Other ailments increasingly associated with smoking include tuberculosis, erectile dysfunction, vision loss, rheumatoid arthritis and even cleft palate in children of women who smoke.
No less worrisome is that even if today’s smokers smoke fewer cigarettes than smokers did in 1964, they’re at greater risk of getting lung cancer and other diseases than smokers were 50 years ago. The surgeon general attributes this to changes in cigarettes, including the composition of tobaccos and filters that contribute to the inhalation of dangerous substances.
Some people smoke because they like to. Many smoke because they can’t quit. As has been the case for decades, a key culprit is the willingness of the tobacco industry to aggressively and deceitfully market products, including to young people, that are addictive and dangerous.
Not surprisingly, the surgeon general’s report calls for countermeasures such as raising cigarette taxes to the point that a pack of cigarettes would cost $10 or more and extending restrictions on where people can smoke indoors. Higher taxes, which have made smoking prohibitively expensive for some young people and kept them from acquiring the habit, have helped reduce the smoking rate to 18 percent. The surgeon general hopes to reduce that rate to less than percent in the next decade.
That’s ambitious, but it would be a welcome outcome. In terms of lost productivity and medical expenses, smoking costs the United States about $300 billion a year — $100 billion more than had been believed. As important as those lost dollars are, they matter less to families than the suffering and lives lost to terrible, and preventable, diseases.