breathe easy

As the staff photographer for the K-State Athletics Department, I spend much of my time around college students. Nothing worries me more than when I see these young people smoking cigarettes. I don’t condemn them, smoking is a personal choice and we live in a free society, but it bothers me to see them harming themselves. There are no redeeming qualities to smoking.

In 1982, the U.S. Surgeon General stated that cigarette smoking is the single major cause of cancer death in the United States. Today, tobacco use is responsible for nearly 1 in 5 deaths in the United States which means that smoking is the most preventable cause of mortality in our society. Each year about 443,000 people in the United States die from illnesses related to tobacco use.

In 2009, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that more than 46 million U.S. adults were smokers. This is 20.6% of all adults or about 1 in 5 people. The CDC estimates that male smokers lose an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lose 14.5 years of life.

Cigarette smoking accounts for at least 30% of all cancer deaths. It has been linked to cancers of the lung, larynx, mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, cervix, kidney, bladder, and an increased risk of acute myeloid leukemia. Smoking is responsible for 9 out of 10 lung cancer deaths. It is a major cause of heart disease, aneurysms, bronchitis, emphysema, and strokes.

Smoking has been linked to other health problems including poor blood flow in the arms and legs (peripheral vascular disease), gum disease, cataracts, bone thinning, hip fractures, peptic ulcers, macular degeneration, and yellowing of the skin, teeth and fingernails.

Smokers aren’t only harming themselves, their secondhand smoke also harms others around them. Secondhand smoke is classified as a carcinogen by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Tobacco smoke contains over 4,000 chemical compounds and more than 60 of these are known carcinogens such as nicotine, ammonia, acetone, benzene, and carbon monoxide.

Secondhand smoke causes many illnesses in non-smokers such as an increase rate of death from heart disease and lung cancer. Non-smokers who inhale secondhand smoke often have breathing problems including coughing, chest discomfort, pneumonia, bronchitis, and asthma attacks.

In 1998, the UC Davis School of Medicine released a study showing that careless smoking is a leading cause of fires resulting in an estimated cost of nearly $7 billion in the United States.

Property damage isn’t the only financial consequences of smoking. Smokers also pay more for insurance. In 2008, compared a  20-year term, $500,000 life insurance policy for a healthy 44-year-old male was $1,140 in premiums per year through The same premium for someone smoking a pack a day more than doubled to $2,571 per year.

The cost of a pack of cigarettes averages around $4.50 to $5, including taxes. At $4.50, a pack-a-day smoker burns through about $31.50 per week, or $1,638 per year.

New research suggests that cigarettes damage the body within minutes of taking a puff. A report published by the American Chemical Society stated that scientists tracked the level of a chemical associated with cancer – one polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) – in 12 smokers and found it began damaging their DNA within 15 to 30 minutes of finishing a cigarette. Martin Dockrell, director of policy and research at the advocacy group Action on Smoking and Health, told BBC News, “The chilling thing about this research is that it shows just how early the very first stages of the process begin–not in 30 years, but within 30 minutes of a single cigarette.”

The American Cancer Society’s 2009 Tobacco Atlas report stated that “unless effective measures are implemented to prevent young people from smoking and to help current smokers quit, tobacco will kill 1 billion people in the 21st century.”

My hope is that anyone who made a New Year’s resolution to stop smoking is successful this year.

-scott weaver

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