Smoking’s deadly risks |

Smoking’s deadly risks

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Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S.

Written By Lauren Glendenning
Brought to you by Kaiser Permanente

It's no secret that smoking is bad for your health, but did you know that smoking kills more people annually than car accidents, illegal drugs, alcohol, gun violence and HIV combined?

Smoking-related cancers and chronic diseases harm the entire body — nearly every organ — contributing to smoking's title as the leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Annually, smoking causes more than 480,000 deaths, or 1 out of 5 total deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"Even as little as five cigarettes a day can cause health issues and contribute to early cardiovascular disease," said Dr. Patricia Dietzgen, family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Frisco Medical Office.

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The list of smoking's possible health effects reads more like a medical textbook of every potential disease or ailment in the human body. Cancers caused by smoking include head or neck, lung, leukemia, stomach, kidney, pancreas, colon, bladder and cervix. The list of chronic diseases caused by smoking includes stroke, blindness, gum infection, aortic rupture, heart disease, pneumonia, hardening of the arteries, chronic lung disease and asthma, reduced fertility and hip fracture, according to the CDC.

"Cigarette smoke is toxic," Dietzgen said. "There are over 6,000 chemicals found in smoke, and over 60 of them are known to cause cancer."

With no safe level of smoking, physicians are often tasked with trying to educate their patients about its dangers.

"Nicotine is very addictive. Nicotine dependence can be both physical and psychological," Dietzgen said. "Unfortunately, the more you smoke, the more immune your cells become to the mildly euphoric effects, and you need more nicotine to achieve the same results."

It's never too late to quit

Quitting nicotine causes withdrawal symptoms, and therefore this can make stopping nicotine difficult for many users. In the Kaiser Permanente system, medications such as nicotine replacement patches and Bupropion may be covered at a very low or no charge for patients who wish to quit.

Quitting requires commitment and planning, Dietzgen said. There will be physical and mental effects such as irritability, increased appetite and feeling down. Picking a specific day to stop, such as a birthday or anniversary, and enlisting the help of friends and family can help a person successfully quit, she said.

"There are multiple resources available online for smoking cessation, as well as support groups. I encourage smokers to read blogs to see how others handled quitting," Dietzgen said. "It often requires significant lifestyle changes, particularly if your friends or work colleagues smoke."

Quitting produces important health results, too. It cuts a person's risks of cardiovascular and lung diseases, as well as cancer, she said.

"Within 2 to 5 years of smoking cessation, your risk falls to that of a nonsmoker," she said. "After 10 years, your risk lung of lung cancer is cut in half."

For patients trying to quit, Dietzgen provides viable options and resources so patients can develop a plan. If friends and colleagues also smoke, she suggests they stop as a group since more people are open to trying to quit when they feel they aren't entirely on their own, she said.

"Educating people about the hazards of second- and- third-hand smoke are also helpful, as many may be inclined to stop smoking if they felt it was endangering a loved one," she said.

Quitting resources:

  •, a Colorado-based program that offers free nicotine patches

Smoking facts:

  • 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.
  • Smoking increases the risk of coronary heart disease and stroke by 2 to 4 times.
  • Cigarette smoking increases the risk of men and women developing lung cancer by 25 times and 25.7 times, respectively.
  • Cigarette smoking can cause cancer in the following areas of the body: bladder, blood, cervix, colon and rectum, esophagus, kidney and ureter, larynx, liver, oropharynx (includes parts of the throat, tongue, soft palate, and the tonsils), pancreas, stomach, trachea, bronchus and lungs.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention