By Tian Chan–
Some of U of L’s own public health experts helped contribute to the Surgeon General’s 50th Anniversary Report on smoking, which was released Jan. 17.
The Cardinal spoke with four of the contributors, Kathy Baumgartner, Richard Baumgartner, Dongyan Yang, and Dr. Stephanie Boone, to discover more information about the report and the increased knowledge researchers have gained about smoking cigarettes. All contributors are affiliated with the James Graham Brown Cancer Center at U of L.
This interview represents the responses of all four contributors, but their names have been redacted for clarity of response.
Q: How many Americans currently smoke cigarettes?
A: About 18 percent of the population was the figure reported in 2012. As a comparison, in 1964 when the first report was released it was actually 43 percent, so the number of cigarette smokers has reduced. In terms of Kentucky, we have the highest rate of smoking in our nation, which is 29 percent, 27 percent being women and 32 percent being men. About 59 percent of teenagers admit to having tried a cigarette, and about 19 percent of teenagers smoke on a regular basis, which is relatively the same statistic regardless of gender. We need to put a lot of our emphasis in preventing the initiation of smoking by teens, particularly in the state of Kentucky
Q: How many Americans die each year due to smoking?
A: Nearly half a million. The Surgeon General’s report gives a figure of around 450,000 deaths per year. An important corollary of that is that more than 16 million of Americans suffer from some type of smoking related chronic disease. Not all of the individuals die, but they are suffering from disease or disability.
Q: What dangers come with cigarette smoking, particularly in young women?
A: Smoking affects almost every organ in the human body, particularly for young women. There are a number of cancers: lung cancer, and chronic lung disease that have steadily increased for women. A particular kind of lung cancer called Adenocarcinoma has shown to be steadily increasing in women, regardless of the decline in the prevalence of smoking over time. The surgeon general noted that this has something to do with the way smoking companies have re-engineered their cigarettes. They are actually potentially more toxic than they used to be. Lung cancer is the primary cause of cancer related death in women, with breast cancer being the second leading cause of cancer related death in women. Our section showed that there is a potential relationship with breast cancer also. Maybe one out of every nine women are likely to develop breast cancer in their lifetime, and deciding to not smoke is one way to decrease that risk for breast cancer.
The surgeon general also made note this morning the fact that smoking affects fertility and certainly impacts the fetus of young women, and is also associated with pregnancy complications and birth defects. It is definitely something young women would want to think very seriously about.
Q: What type of threats does second-hand smoke pose on individuals?
Researchers: At least with regard to what we wrote on breast cancer, the harm from second hand smoke did not seem to be substantially different from the harm of actually actively smoking. It is a little bit lower, but both were found to be harmful, and this is true for all other diseases that have much stronger effects such as lung cancer.
A: What efforts have been taken or are being taken to reduce the number of cigarette smokers?
Researchers: Over the past 30 years, there have been a number of campaigns set-fourth that have been implemented to try to help individuals stop smoking. We know that these programs do work, but we really don’t have sufficient funding behind these programs to help implement them. Increasing the cigarette tax is one of the things the surgeon general has mentioned. There is a direct association between how high the cigarette tax is for the particular state and the prevalence of smoking within that state. Kentucky is ranked 40th in the cigarette tax that is imposed on a pack of cigarettes, so we are not the lowest but we are definitely very low. Tobacco companies spend far more money marketing their product to potential smokers, than public health agencies, government agencies – especially state governments spend on trying to prevent smoking.
Q: Can you see Kentucky becoming smoke-free in the near future?
A: Well, I believe the Surgeon Generals’ office as well as the White House would like to be able to say that they see the entire country being smoke-free within the next decade. I believe Kentucky could certainly be smoke-free but I do not think that could happen within a couple of years. We need policy change and more funding to provide the types of programs needed to help others stop smoking. It would help in Kentucky if our state legislature could finally pass a law against smoking in public places state-wide, which has really been an uphill battle in Lexington for quite a few years and still hasn’t succeeded. The change in my opinion will come with young people understanding the hazards, the risks and the real dangers smoking tobacco has on their bodies.