New study reveals seven new diseases linked to smoking

By Michael Makmur

Source: The Daily Targum

The Surgeon General warns people against smoking, reminding smokers of a litany of potential heath complications on the back of each and every cigarette pack. A recent study from the American Cancer Society might just make that list of hazards longer.

The study found smoking causes seven diseases previously not identified by the Surgeon General. These new diseases cause about 57,000 deaths per year, more than the influenza virus, said Brian Carter, an epidemiologist at the ACS.

About 480,000 deaths are caused by 21 different diseases related to smoking under the current system, he said.

“We looked at that and saw that it didn’t actually explain all of the excess mortality observed in current smokers,” he said. “We thought, ‘Let’s cast a wide net and see if there are other things killing smokers that have not been identified yet.’”

Carter said he was surprised to find his team linked certain diseases to smoking that had not been counted earlier by the Surgeon General. One example of this oversight was the relatively higher rate of renal failure in smokers.

Renal failure can be caused by diabetes and cardiovascular disease, both conditions that have previously been linked to smoking, Carter said.

These results are related to secondhand smoking, he said. Deaths from secondhand smoke are very similar to those of smokers.

While the death count would be much lower, Carter said it would not be surprising to see the new diseases also be linked to secondhand smoke.

Newly researched concepts like third-hand smoke can also have significant health impacts, said Michael Steinberg, director of the Rutgers Tobacco Dependence Program.

“Third-hand smoke describes how, when you exhale smoke, certain particles and chemicals land on your clothing, carpet, furniture or curtains in your home,” Steinberg said. “Children, pets or infants can become exposed to those toxins and be harmed.”

People are unaware of the specific ways smoking can kill, but researchers are aware of how smoking is one of the worst things to do to their health, Carter said.

Most people understand smoking leads to lung cancer or emphysema, but tobacco is also the strongest risk factor for heart disease, which is leading cause of death in the United States, Steinberg said.

Smoking itself leads to almost one third of all cancer deaths in the United States, with lung cancer being the most common, he said.

“There’s a lot of other diseases such as ulcer disease, macular degeneration and osteoporosis that wouldn’t necessarily be linked to smoking, but it plays a big role in the development,” he said. “We could do a better job of educating people about the breadth of disease linked to tobacco smoke.”

More than 16 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds in New Jersey smoke cigarettes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The tobacco use rate may be closer to 20 percent, Steinberg said. He said college students are more often trying other forms of smoking, such as hookah, electronic cigarettes and smokeless tobacco.

The University should consider implementing a tobacco policy across campus, Steinberg said. Seven other Big Ten schools have enacted smoke-free campus policies, four of which have a higher enrollment than Rutgers.

“I think it sends a message to the students in general that the University cares about the health of its students, staff and faculty,” Steinberg said. “They (should) want to protect them from the effects of secondhand smoke.”

Making Rutgers a smoke-free campus is not a new idea, he said. Project HOPE, an international health organization, conducted a survey last year and found that 62 percent of students in New Brunswick and Camden, as well as 75 percent of staff and faculty members, support a tobacco-free environment.

This should take everyone’s point of view into consideration, he said. People who currently smoke want to have the right to smoke. Those who do not smoke have the right to walk around campus without being exposed to secondhand smoke.

A transition to a smoke-free campus should be done gradually, said Mahir Sufian, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student. Smoking zones should be set up at the beginning, but should be phased out over the course some years, he said.

Steinberg, who runs the Tobacco Dependence Program, said they run a free service that offers face-to-face treatment for students, faculty and staff, as well as for residents of the New Brunswick area. The program is located off of College Avenue.

“A lot of people try to take the first couple steps on their own,” he said, “But seeking a more comprehensive treatment program like the Tobacco Dependence Program gives people the highest chance for success.”

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