Farmers were harvesting tobacco crops eight thousand years ago. Its uses since that time have ranged from weather forecasting, appetite suppression, and pain relief, to the ceremonial smoking of the peace pipe and recreational use. Although tobacco was smoked and chewed in the United States back in the days of Columbus, it was not until the 1880s that smoking cigarettes became a widespread custom. At its peak in 1965, 52% of all adult men and 32% of all adult women in the United States routinely smoked. By the year 2001, smoking rates in the United States had decreased to 25.5% in men, and 21.3% in women.
The potential adverse health effects of smoking were suspected as far back as 1859. It was then that an evaluation of 68 patients with oral cavity cancer linked 66 of them with the practice of smoking tobacco through short-stemmed clay pipes. Epidemiological evidence of the potentially harmful effects of cigarette smoking continued to mount over the following years. Finally, in 1962, the Royal College of Physicians of London officially deemed smoking a serious threat to health; in 1964 the U.S. Surgeon General followed suit.
By 2001, an estimated 450, 000 Americans died annually from diseases related to cigarette smoking. According to the American Cancer Society, 3, 000 non-smoking adults die each year of lung cancer from the effects of secondhand smoke. Pregnant women who smoke are more likely to give birth to low-weight babies, and smokers have increased rates of heart disease and respiratory problems.
In addition to those health risks, smokers are at a higher risk for the development of many types of cancer. In fact, 38% of all cancer deaths in men and 23% of all cancer deaths in women are believed to be attributed to cigarette smoking. As cigarette smoking becomes more prevalent in developing countries, the incidence of particular diseases, such as lung cancer, has also increased.
Cancers associated specifically with tobacco use include:
Although cancer is not always preventable, avoiding known risk factors, such as smoking, is an important part of prevention. The best approach to prevent disease is not to start smoking at all. However, even individuals who have smoked for years can decrease their risk of cancer and improve their health and well being by breaking the habit. Shortly after quitting smoking, a person will notice an improvement in their sense of taste and smell. After a smoke-free ten years, lung cancer risk declines by up to 50%. After 15 smoke-free years, an ex-smoker has the same risk of early death than a person who never smoked at all. Although quitting smoking does reduce the likelihood of cancer development, the risk depends upon the amount smoked, the number of years smoked, and whether or not a person is ill at the time of smoking cessation.
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Tamara L. Brown, R.N.