Just one cigarette can harm DNA, Surgeon General says
Even brief exposure to tobacco smoke causes immediate harm to the body, damaging cells and inflaming tissue in ways that can lead to serious illness and death, according to the U.S. Surgeon General's new report on tobacco, the first such report in four years.
While the report, out today, focuses on the medical effects of smoke on the body, it also sheds light on why cigarettes are so addictive: They are designed to deliver nicotine more quickly and more efficiently than cigarettes did decades ago.
Smoke, can damage DNA in ways that lead to cancer.
"Tobacco smoke damages almost every organ in your body," says Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. In someone with underlying heart disease, she says, "One cigarette can cause a heart attack."
About 40 million Americans smoke — 20% of adults and older teens. Tobacco kills more than 443,000 a year, says the 700-page report, written with contributions from 64 experts.
Cigarette smoking costs the country more than $193 billion a year in health care costs and lost productivity.
Recent changes in the design and ingredients in cigarettes have made them more likely to hook first-time users and keep older smokers coming back, Benjamin says. Changes include:
•Ammonia added to tobacco, which converts nicotine into a form that gets to the brain faster.
•Filter holes that allow people to inhale smoke more deeply into the lungs.
•Sugar and "moisture enhancers" to reduce the burning sensation of smoking, making it more pleasant, especially for new cigarette users.
"This is the first report that demonstrates that the industry has consciously redesigned tobacco products in ways that make them even more attractive to young people," says Matthew Myers of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
More so than previous reports, this one focused on specific pathways by which smoking does its damage.
Some 70 of the 7,000 chemicals and compounds in cigarettes can cause cancer, while hundreds of the others are toxic, inflaming the lining of the airways and potentially leading to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a major killer in the United States. The chemicals also corrode blood vessels and increase the likelihood of blood clots, upping the risk for heart conditions.
Smoking is responsible for about 85 percent of lung cancers in the United States. But this report puts more emphasis on the link between smoking and the nation's no. 1 killer, heart disease.
"This report went way beyond pulmonary issues, which people are all too familiar with, but got into cardiovascular risks," Horovitz said. "We've known that even a few cigarettes a day could triple your risk of heart disease. If you have a 3 percent risk of cardiac issues, as a light smoker you could have 9 or 10 percent. That's significant. It's a little Russian Roulette."
And the problems don't stop there, the reported stated. Smoking cigarettes can interfere with blood-sugar control for diabetes and can help spur a range of pregnancy and birth-related problems such as miscarriage, low birth weight and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Cigarettes are also getting more addictive, the report stated, with newer formulations getting the nicotine more quickly and efficiently from the lungs -- where it first enters the body -- to the heart and brain. Compounds other than nicotine that are added to cigarettes also help hook people in, the report said.
"The evidence clearly states that tobacco products are lethal weapons capable of shortening the life spans of smokers and nonsmokers alike," American Heart Association CEO Nancy Brown said in a statement. "However, tobacco companies will stop at nothing to addict a new generation of "We strongly believe the findings will support implementation of new federal tobacco regulations, including the development of graphic warning labels for cigarette packages," she continued. "We also urge state officials to fund smoking prevention and cessation programs at CDC- recommended levels, enact strong smoke-free policies and boost tobacco excise taxes. Policymakers must not allow complacency to rule in the fight against tobacco. Bold, aggressive measures are needed to save lives, reduce the burden of disease and improve quality of life." smokers."
David Sutton, a spokesman for Altria, parent company of Philip Morris USA, declined to comment until he had time to study the report.