Surgeon general links colon cancer, diabetes to smoking

CNN/ Newswire | 1/17/2014, 7:15 p.m.
Fifty years ago, smoking was linked to cancer in the first surgeon general's report on tobacco. On Friday, Dr. Boris ...
Beginning September 2012, FDA will require larger, more prominent cigarette health warnings on all cigarette packaging and advertisements in the United States. These warnings mark the first change in cigarette warnings in more than 25 years and are a significant advancement in communicating the dangers of smoking.

By Miriam Falco


Fifty years ago, smoking was linked to cancer in the first surgeon general's report on tobacco.

On Friday, Dr. Boris Lushniak, the acting surgeon general, issued the 32nd report on tobacco, saying "enough is enough." His goal: eliminating the use of cigarettes and tobacco.

In 1964, when Dr. Luther Terry released the first surgeon general's report, the public learned smoking causes lung cancer. At the time, 42% of American adults smoked, Lushniak says.

Since then, "Tobacco has killed more than 20 million people prematurely," says Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in the forward to the new report.

The number of smokers has dropped to 18% in 2012, according to the latest estimates published Thursday by the CDC.

But "that still translates into 45 million people, including 3 million kids," Lushniak says. "One out of three cancers is caused by tobacco (and other smoking products)."

Even though the number of smokers has gone down, the figures of those dying from disease linked to tobacco products are up.

While 440,000 people died from smoking-related causes in 2008, that number has risen to 480,000 people dying each year, according to the report.

And even though the latest data suggests 87% of lung cancer deaths are caused by smoking and secondhand smoke, more smokers age 35 and older die from heart disease than lung cancer.

Another alarming milestone, according to the report, is that women have caught up to men and for the first time are just as likely as men to die from smoking-related diseases.

What's new

Thirteen cancers are now linked to smoking and secondhand smoke. Liver and colorectal cancer are added in this report. So far, there's not enough evidence to say smoking causes breast cancer. Smoking does not cause prostate cancer, according to existing evidence, according to the report.

Another finding: "Exposure to secondhand smoke is a cause of stroke," according to the report. People who don't smoke themselves but are exposed to secondhand smoke have a 20% to 30% increased risk for a stroke.

For the first time, the report found that smoking can cause diabetes, erectile dysfunction, rheumatoid arthritis, macular degeneration, ectopic pregnancies and impaired immune function. Smokers have a 30% to 40% increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes compared with nonsmokers.

And women who smoke early in their pregnancies put their unborn at risk of having cleft palates or cleft lips, according to the report.

Some 5.6 million children living today will die early because of smoking if things don't change, the report warns. That's one in 13 children, Lushniak says.

Lushniak appears passionate about wanting to make smoking a thing of the past.

The tools to do so already exist, he says, including making tobacco products more expensive. High-impact anti-smoking media campaigns, such as one the CDC conducted last year, as well as full access to smoking cessation programs may help.

Smoke-free laws are needed across the United States, Lushniak says. "It's embarrassing in this country only half our population is covered by those laws."