Smokers hate to be told, and many of them will continue to ignore it, but another report — this one from the surgeon general — finds that inhaling tobacco smoke causes even more damage than previously documented.
And there was already plenty of documented damage.
Here are some of the highlights of the report:
• 480,000 Americans die every year from a dizzying assortment of diseases, many not previously linked to smoking. Among the “new” diseases and conditions are diabetes (smoking affects how the body responds to insulin), liver cancer, erectile dysfunction, macular degeneration (a leading cause of age-related blindness), tuberculosis and birth defects (specifically, cleft lips and palates and ectopic pregnancy, which occurs when a fertilized egg implants in the fallopian tubes instead of the uterus). Almost 21 percent of women of child-bearing age smoke, although an unspecified number quit at least temporarily when they learn they’re pregnant.
• 18 percent of the adult population still smokes, which is about half the number after the release of the first surgeon general’s report linking smoking to cancer in 1964. And 5.6 million children who are alive today will die early unless smoking is corralled.
• Smoking has killed 20 million Americans since 1964. Almost 2.5 million of them were from second-hand smoke.
• Smoking costs the country about $286 billion a year in direct medical costs of smokers and those exposed to second-hand smoke, as well as in lost productivity due to premature deaths.
Tobacco companies don’t contest the findings. They either acknowledge that smoking isn’t good for you or say nothing.
Still, some smokers are unmoved or unable to stop smoking. It’s especially distressing to circulate among our college campuses and note the high number of young people smoking. They are obviously ignorant of how difficult quitting will be when they finally realize they must.
A number of recommendations have been offered, including increasing money for tobacco cessation, raising tobacco taxes and removing menthol-flavored cigarettes from the market to inhibit new smokers.
An outright ban has never been seriously considered. Tobacco is a significant mover of the economy in parts of the South, and bans of any kind are always risky.
Society has done a pretty good job of limiting smoking. It is virtually outlawed in public places. Smokers are having to satisfy their habit in their own homes and cars or in sealed-off areas away from the general public.
Yet millions of Americans continue on their suicidal course. If it were only themselves they put at risk, the public would be more apt to leave them to their fate. But they cost all of us — medically and financially — so heavily by exposure to their smoke.
We can only hope that, this time, they are listening.