Smoking is one of the great paradoxes of human health. Despite warnings from health professionals and organizations as well as being a staple topic in class discussions and essays, millions of people still smoke in the United States and around the world. The high number of smokers can be attributed to a number of factors. For one, tobacco is aggressively marketed. Tobacco companies spend billions on advertisements and promotions (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2020). Marketing often targets younger people, since capturing this market usually means that smokers will continue purchasing for decades. For another, tobacco contains addictive substances that make it difficult for smokers to quit for good. While anti-smoking campaigns target smokers and non-smokers alike, preventing young people from taking up smoking holds a special place. Key to this campaign is comprehensive education, with special emphasis on the effects of smoking. As this essay shows, smoking has negative impact on both individual health and public welfare.
Statistics in the United States
To understand why smoking is a burden to both individual and social health, it is necessary to look at the extent of smoking as a social practice. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been gains in the campaign against smoking in recent years. In fact, the number of smokers has fortunately gone down: 13.7% of adult Americans were active smokers in 2018 as opposed to 20.9% in 2005 (CDC, 2020). While the decrease in the number of smokers is worthy of celebration, it should not promote complacency as the burden of smoking remains. Instead, this decline should be taken as motivation to further such programs as they clearly are effective at discoursing people from smoking.
Statistics also show that around 16 million Americans currently live with a tobacco-related illness. Smoking is also more prevalent among men than women, with 16 of every 100 men smoking as opposed to 12 of every 100 women. It is also more prevalent among lower income households: 21.3% of adults in households earning less than $35,000 smoke as opposed to 7.3% of adults in households earning more than $100,000. Finally, smoking is also correlated with educational attainment, with smaller number of smokers among adults with graduate degrees (3.7%) as opposed to 36% among adults with a GED certificate (CDC, 2020). As these figures show, smoking remains widely prevalent in the United States. These figures highlight the importance of continuing anti-smoking campaigns and even expanding them if possible.
Health Effects of Smoking
One of the most significant effects of smoking is the risk of developing cancer. Numerous studies conducted throughout the decades have shown that smoking greatly increases a person’s risk for various types of cancer. Tobacco is known to contain over 7,000 chemicals, 250 of which are considered harmful to human health. Out of these 250 chemicals, 69 are identified as carcinogenic, which means they are capable of causing cancer. These include arsenic, formaldehyde, benzene, and polonium-210 among many others (National Cancer Institute, n.d.). According to the American Cancer Society, smoking is responsible for 30% of all cancer-related deaths in the United States; 80% of deaths from lung cancer are caused by smoking (2018). Lung cancer, however, is not the only type of cancer tobacco causes. Other types caused by tobacco include cancer of the mouth, esophagus, kidney, cervix, stomach, colon, rectum, liver, and bladder.
Tobacco also damages the lungs in other ways. Diseases such as bronchitis and emphysema are just some of the lung-specific diseases caused by smoking. Bronchitis refers to the inflammation of the bronchi, which are the branches connecting the airway and the lungs. Chronic inflammation caused by smoking may eventually result in permanent damage, which puts a person at risk for infection. Emphysema refers to the damage sustained by air sacs in the lungs called alveoli. This condition impairs a person’s ability to take in oxygen, thus necessitating oxygen supplementation (American Cancer Society, 2018). These conditions show how smoking primarily attacks the pulmonary system. Such conditions certainly affect patients’ quality of life, primarily by hindering them from engaging in a variety of activities.
Apart from cancer and pulmonary diseases, smoking has also been linked to cardiovascular diseases. Smoking is a major risk factor for a disease called atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis involves the accumulation of a waxy substance called plaque inside the walls of arteries, which impairs blood flow to various parts of the body. Smoking also increases the risk for ischemic heart disease, a condition wherein blood supply to the heart is compromised by the presence of plaque in coronary arteries. On the other hand, the accumulation of plaque in arteries that supply the head, body, and limps with blood is known as peripheral heart disease. Over time, these diseases may lead to complications such as chest pain, heart failure, heart attack, and stroke (National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute [NHLBI], n.d.). According to studies, people who smoke are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than non-smokers (Johns Hopkins Medicine, 2020). Because the health of the cardiovascular system is vital to overall wellness, the emergence of these diseases among smokers puts them at a highly vulnerable position. Like cancer and lung diseases, cardiovascular diseases greatly lower the quality of life of smokers.
There are also other diseases and conditions related to smoking. Studies show that smoking can negatively affect reproductive health. The rates of premature delivery, complications during labor and delivery, and miscarriages are higher among women who smoke than non-smokers. Furthermore, female smokers are more likely to give birth to children with birth defects such as cleft lip and palate. Smoking while pregnant also results in low birth weight of children. Meanwhile, smoking is known to cause erectile dysfunction and lowered sperm count among men (American Cancer Society, 2018). Smoking is also associated with poor oral health that causes tooth loss, gum disease, stained teeth, and bad breath. It also hinders healing process due to poor blood flow. Other conditions associated with smoking are increased risk for fractures due to lower bone density, duller sense of taste and smell, increased risk for eye cataracts, increased risk for diabetes, faster rate of skin aging, and lowered immune system (American Cancer Society, 2018). Although not as fatal as the diseases mentioned earlier, these other smoking-related conditions can still significantly impact the health of smokers. Note for instance how lower bone density and subsequent fractures can impair the mobility of individuals or how increased risk for diabetes renders smokers vulnerable to complications.
Smoking as a Social and Economic Burden
While smoking has dire consequences on the individual level, the sheer number of people living with or at risk for smoking-related illnesses means that smoking is also a social burden. Like the alcohol and drug abuse, the opioid crisis, or the high rate of the most common sexually transmitted diseases, smoking affects millions of people. According to the CDC, around 480,000 people die from smoking-related illnesses every year; 41,000 of these deaths are caused by second-hand smoke. In fact, smoking is the leading cause of preventable deaths in the United States. Meanwhile, 16 million people live with a disease caused by tobacco (2020). These figures are not merely statistics; these numbers represent real lives that are lost or permanently burdened by disease. The fact that almost half a million Americans die from smoking each year points to massive losses in terms of individual earning capacity and collective productivity. In fact, the CDC estimates that smoking incurs around $170 billion in direct medical expenditure and another $156 B in lost productivity every year (CDC, 2020). Considering the amount of lost productivity, the economic losses, and the lowered quality of life for millions, it is beyond doubt that smoking is an urgent public health issue.
Smoking can be considered as one of great killers of the modern age. As statistics show, it is responsible for almost half a million deaths ever year—deaths that are entirely preventable. It is also responsible for a variety of health conditions including various forms of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, pulmonary diseases, reproductive health issues, and a variety of other minor and major health issues. The impact of smoking on public welfare is also staggering. Not only does it cost the economy hundreds of billions of dollars, it also brings untold suffer to countless people. Given these facts, it is clear that the anti-smoking campaign should continue, especially with regard to formulating effective policies that educate people on the dangers of smoking. With that being said, established policies need to be complemented by innovative approaches. Similar to how reexamining sex education in schools leads to better policies, reexamining issues related to smoking can give way to more effective ways of combatting this health issue.
American Cancer Society. (2018). Health risks of tobacco smoking. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/cancer-causes/tobacco-and-cancer/health-risks-of-smoking-tobacco.html
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020). Smoking and tobacco use. https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/
Johns Hopkins Medicine. (2020). Smoking and cardiovascular disease. Johns Hopkins University. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/smoking-and-cardiovascular-disease
National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Harms of cigarette smoking and benefits of quitting. https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/causes-prevention/risk/tobacco/cessation-fact-sheet
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. (n.d.). Smoking and your heart. https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health-topics/smoking-and-your-heart