However bad you thought smoking was, it’s even worse.
A new study adds at least five diseases and 60,000 deaths a year to the toll taken by tobacco in the United States. Before the study, smoking was already blamed for nearly half a million deaths a year in this country from 21 diseases, including 12 types of cancer.
The new findings are based on health data from nearly a million people who were followed for 10 years. In addition to the well-known hazards of lung cancer, artery disease, heart attacks, chronic lung disease and stroke, the researchers found that smoking was linked to significantly increased risks of infection, kidney disease, intestinal disease caused by inadequate blood flow, and heart and lung ailments not previously attributed to tobacco.
Even though people are already barraged with messages about the dangers of smoking, researchers say it is important to let the public know that there is yet more bad news.
Research has shown that their death rates are two to three times higher than those of people who have never smoked, and that on average, they die more than a decade before nonsmokers. Smokers are more than 20 times as likely as nonsmokers to die of lung cancer.
Brian D Carter, an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, said he had been inspired to dig deeper into the causes of death in smokers after taking an initial look at data from five large health surveys being conducted by other researchers. The participants were 421,378 men and 532,651 women 55 and older, including nearly 89,000 current smokers.
As expected, death rates were higher among the smokers. But diseases known to be caused by tobacco accounted for only 83 per cent of the excess deaths in people who smoked.
Analysing deaths among the participants from 2000 to 2011, the researchers of this observational study found that, compared with people who had never smoked, smokers were about twice as likely to die from infections, kidney disease, respiratory ailments not previously linked to tobacco, and hypertensive heart disease, in which high blood pressure leads to heart failure. Smokers were also six times more likely to die from a rare illness caused by insufficient blood flow to the intestines.
Carter said he had confidence in the findings because, biologically, it made sense that those conditions were related to tobacco. Smoking can weaken the immune system, increasing the risk of infection, he said. It is also known to cause diabetes, high blood pressure and artery disease, all of which can lead to kidney problems. Artery disease can also choke off the blood supply to the intestines.