It may be riskier for your lungs to smoke cigarettes today than it was a few decades ago, at least in the United States, according to new research that blames changes in cigarette design for fueling a certain type of lung cancer. Up to half of U.S. lung cancer cases may be due to those changes.
Smokers once tended to get a form of lung cancer called squamous cell carcinoma, which strikes cells in larger air tubes. Then doctors noticed a jump in adenocarcinoma, which grows in small air sacs far deeper in the lung.
Initial studies blamed the introduction of filtered, lower-tar cigarettes. When smokers switched, they began inhaling more deeply to get their nicotine jolt, pushing the smoke deeper than before.
The new study found an additional wrinkle to the problem — the increase in a kind of lung tumor called adenocarcinoma was higher in the U.S. than in Australia, even though both switched to lower-tar cigarettes around the same time. The most likely explanation is a change in the cigarette; cigarettes sold in Australia contain lower levels of nitrosamines, a known carcinogen, than those sold in the U.S.
Nearly 20 percent of U.S. adults, or over 43 million people, currently smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
They credit smoking as the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, where it is responsible for about one out of every five deaths each year, for a total of about 443,000 deaths.
Personally I would stop short of calling cigarettes the leading cause of preventable death — I believe eating sugar and struggling with unresolved emotional traumas are far more significant contributors — but I certainly would not discount the fact that smoking is dangerous for your health and should be avoided.
This seems to be particularly true now, as this recent study suggests changes in cigarette design, namely those made to produce lower-tar cigarettes, have increased levels of nitrosamines in cigarettes.
Nitrosamines are a chemical byproduct of tobacco processing, and they’re known to cause cancer. Levels vary significantly in part due to curing practices. In Australia, for instance, cigarettes contain just 20 percent of the nitrosamine content of U.S. cigarettes.
Perhaps as a result, U.S. cases of adenocarcinoma, a type of lung cancer that grows in small air sacs deep in your lung, have been rising more so than in Australia. Researchers say adenocarcinoma makes up 65 percent to 70 percent of newly occurring U.S. lung cancer cases, but only up to 40 percent of Australia’s lung cancer.
In fact, up to half of U.S. lung cancer cases may be due to those design changes, and the resulting increase in nitrosamines, according to researcher Dr. David Burns of the University of California, San Diego.
An Overview of the Health Risks of Smoking
Nitrosamines are just one toxic byproduct of smoking; cigarettes actually contain over 4,000 different chemicals in all, and all of them have varying degrees of toxicity.
And by now most everyone knows that smoking can increase your risk of cancer, heart disease, and other serious diseases. But looking at it from a different angle, the impact it can have on an individual life, may put this habit into a different perspective. According to the CDC:
• Smokers die an average of 13-14 years earlier than nonsmokers.
• Smoking increases the length of time people live with a disability by about two years.
• For every person who dies of a smoking-related disease, 20 more people suffer with at least one serious illness from smoking.
The American Cancer Society even reports that smoking cigarettes kills more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide, and illegal drugs combined, while other research has shown that just by smoking one pack of cigarettes:
• A smoker’s life is cut short by two hours
• Men lose a total of 4.4 years of their life
• Women lose a total of 2.4 years of their life
There are also economic factors to consider. Annually, cigarette smoking costs more than $193 billion ($97 billion in lost productivity and $96 billion in health care expenditures), according to the CDC’s November 2008 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
These risks have not gone unnoticed, as 70 percent of smokers say they want to quit completely, while more than 40 percent try to quit each year. Ideally, the best way to quit smoking is to never start in the first place. Unfortunately, however, the CDC reports that 1,100 kids under 18 become regular smokers every day.
Help for Those Trying to Quit
Quitting smoking is a wise choice for your health. However, if you are facing other health challenges, are not eating healthy and are otherwise not following a healthy lifestyle, I highly suggest you address these latter issues FIRST.
There are two major reasons for this. One, if you attempt to quit smoking while you’re still eating an unhealthy diet, you will likely be tempted to replace the cigarettes with some other “reward.” And the reward often ends up being junk food.
As I often say, I believe one French fry is worse for you than one cigarette, so swapping your pack a day for an extra value meal a day is NOT a good swap as this will often lead to weight gain and other health issues.
A study conducted back in 2001 even found that obesity was associated with higher rates of chronic medical problems and a poorer quality of life than smoking. So it’s absolutely essential that you are devoted to eating healthy before you give up smoking. Otherwise you may simply trade smoking for overeating, or eating too much sugar and fast food, leading to obesity and all of its related problems.
At the same time, many people become depressed when they quit smoking, and this makes it very difficult to make major dietary changes and improvements.
The second reason for getting healthy before you quit smoking is that your new healthy lifestyle will probably push you to naturally quit.
There’s something about eating healthy and exercising that synergistically helps to resolve the underlying anxiety that many people choose to resolve with smoking. And I have found that if a person is eating the right foods and exercising it is very unusual for them to remain a smoker.
Kicking the Smoking Habit
So, the first thing to do is to get started eating right and exercising. You can read my entire program on how to get healthy in Take Control of Your Health. At the same time, tend to the emotional reasons why you’re smoking or not eating right by using an emotional tapping technique that will help to clear out emotional blockages from your system, thus restoring your mind and body’s balance.
Once you’ve accomplished these lifestyle changes, then you can start to think about kicking the smoking habit. By the way, when you do, going “cold turkey” is the best approach. Studies have shown that simply cutting back on how much you smoke does nothing to lower your cancer risk.
So once you decide to quit, complete abstinence appears to be the most effective strategy.