Smoking kills. Tobacco use causes nearly half a million deaths each year, according to the American Lung Association. It is the leading preventable cause of death in the United States, causing more deaths than HIV, illegal drug use, alcohol use, motor vehicle accidents and firearm-related incidents combined, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Tobacco use has a direct link to lung cancer. Lung cancer was the most common cause of cancer deaths in Boston, accounting for more than 40 percent of all types of cancer deaths from 2008 to 2012, according to the Boston Public Health Commission. Lung cancer was most deadly cancer for Boston’s Asian residents, ahead of liver and colon cancers.
A U.S. Surgeon General report found smoking harms almost every organ of the body and the effects begin upon inhalation. In 10 seconds, nicotine reaches the brain, inducing cigarette addiction. Soon after, carcinogens bind to cells in the lungs and other organs. Tobacco smoke damages blood vessels, increasing the likelihood of blood clots. Carbon monoxide, another cigarette toxin, binds to red blood cells, preventing them from effectively circulating oxygen throughout the body. Secondhand smoke is just as damaging, as non-smokers breathe in nicotine and toxic chemicals the same way smokers do.
Long-term damage from smoking includes chronic inflammation of the lungs, a weakened immune system and DNA damage, all of which can lead to disease and death. The risk of smoking-related illness depends on how long smokers have smoked, according to a 2010 Surgeon General report on how smoking causes disease. Despite documented health risks, youth and young adult smoking rates in the United States have remained unchanged over the past few years, based on 2013 data from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The reasons for this are complex and have to do with social and environmental factors that influence cigarette use as well as tobacco marketing tactics that entice people to start smoking. Today, nearly all adults who smoke on a regular basis started before 26, making adolescents and young adults a key demographic in reducing smoking-related disease and death in the future. E-cigarettes and vaping deliver nicotine without burning tobacco, which are often flavored to appeal to teenagers. While there is limited data on side effects, the nicotine in e-cigarettes is the most addictive ingredient in cigarettes.
To combat the harmful effects of smoking, Tufts Medical Center’s Asian Health Initiative, which seeks to address health disparities and improve the health of the Asian community, will fund community programs addressing smoking, lung cancer and related health risks from 2017 to 2019. A request for proposals will be released on Sept. 29, with more information at https://www.tuftsmedicalcenter.org/About-Us/Community-Partners-Programs.aspx. Proposals are due on Nov. 1.
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