By now everyone in the United States ought to be aware of the dangers of smoking.  Anti-smoking ads and warning labels, concerned friends and relatives, and doctors warn against the serious consequences of smoking. In most parts of the country, restaurants, airlines and workplaces no longer allow smoking  – and for good reason.  The good news is that if you’re a smoker, quitting can lower the risk of illness and death.

Cigarette smoking is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States.  It accounts for about one third of all cancers and causes more than 480,000 deaths each year in the United States, nearly one in five deaths.  Here are the ugly statistics:  Shockingly, more than 10 times as many U.S. citizens have died prematurely from cigarette smoking than have died in all the wars fought by the United States during its history.  About 90% of all lung cancer deaths are due to smoking.  Another surprise statistic is that more women die from lung cancer each year than from breast cancer.  Other cancer deaths attributable to smoking are:  larynx (voice box) cancer with 76.6%, oral cavity/throat cancer, esophagus cancer, and bladder cancer.  Lung cancer claims more lives than colon, breast and prostate cancers combined.  Smoking causes more deaths each year than the following causes combined: human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle injuries and firearm-related incidents. Every day in the United States, 432 people die of lung cancer (smokers and non-smokers).  Approximately 7,300 non-smokers die from lung cancer each year because of breathing in secondhand smoke.   If no one smoked, one in three cancers would not occur.

There is no safe level of exposure to cigarette smoke. To date, researchers have identified approximately 7000 chemicals in cigarette smoke.  Of those, 250 are known to be poisonous and 70 can cause cancer. It is a toxic blend of chemicals that put human life (and pet’s lives) at risk.  Smoking can cause cancer and then block your body from fighting it due to poisons in the cigarette smoke that can weaken the body’s immune system.

How Does Smoking Cessation Affect Cancer Rates for Ex-Smokers?

Here is the good news about cessation.  Quitting smoking cuts cardiovascular risks. Just 1 year after not smoking the risk for a heart attack drops sharply.  Within 2 to 5 years after quitting, the risk for stroke could fall to about the same as a nonsmoker’s.  Within 5 years of quitting, ex-smokers reduce their risk of esophageal, mouth, throat and bladder cancer by 50 percent.  Within 10 years of quitting, the risk of dying from lung cancer goes down by 50 percent.

Quitting Smoking

The decision to quit smoking is one that only the smoker can make. Others may want you to quit, but the real commitment must come from you.  Consult with your physician about getting help with the mental part of addiction, consider nicotine replacement therapy , there are prescription drugs to help you quit smoking and ask your physician about counseling and quit smoking groups.

*Statistics are from the American Cancer Society.

Dr. Robert A. Gallegos is a Fellow in the Academy of General Dentistry, he is on the faculty of Spear Education, a member the American Academy of Cosmetic Dentistry, the American Academy of Dental Sleep Medicine and the American Dental Association.  Dr. Gallegos practices dentistry in Middleburg, VA.