The $13,000 Habit You Should Kick Now
The Cost to Your Health
Nonsmokers pay a different price: Approximately 50,000 Americans die annually from being exposed to secondhand smoke. A recent study found that waiters and bartenders who work in a smoky setting accumulated a marked buildup of the carcinogens found in cigarettes every hour they were exposed, compared to employees who worked in a no-puff zone. The American Legacy Foundation (ALF), a public health organization for tobacco-use prevention and education, reports that secondhand smoke causes about 3,000 lung cancer deaths in nonsmokers annually in the United States. Janis Biermann, senior vice president for education and health promotion at the March of Dimes, says pregnant smokers are especially advised to quit because "they put unborn fetuses at risk for low birth weight, preterm birth, and sudden infant death syndrome." Potential fathers may also jeopardize the health of their future children every time they take a drag. A study in mice found that tobacco smoke, which contains more than 4,000 chemicals, could mutate genes in sperm cells, putting the offspring at risk for genetic disease.
Then, of course, there are the dangers to the smoker herself. Women who light up lose an average of 15 years of life, says Susan Foster, vice president and director for policy research and analysis at the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University. A recent study discovered that among Australian smokers, women run more than twice the risk of dying from lung cancer, compared with men. Some 70,000-plus women will die of lung or bronchus cancer this year, reports the American Cancer Society. In 2003, for the third year in a row, over 50 percent of all deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) were in women. Experts aren't sure why there's a gender bias; one explanation could be that women's smaller bodies are more sensitive to cigarette toxins.
Just to clarify: The nicotine itself is not a cancer-causing agent; the real killers are some of the chemicals in cigarettes, such as formaldehyde and benzene. But nicotine is what gets you addicted. Harvard researchers found that the amount of nicotine in cigarettes jumped 11 percent between 1998 and 2005. One group in particular is hooked: 30 percent of non-college-educated adults ages 18 to 24 smoke, compared to 14 percent of college-educated adults.
Now for the good news: Forty-four million people ashed their butts for good in the year 2000 alone. Seventy percent of smokers want to quit (only about 5 to 10 percent actually do, however). Recent initiatives aimed at potential young puffers, such as "truth," a smoking-prevention campaign that exposes tobacco-marketing tactics and health risks, have proven successful in making smoking less cosmo-chic. Hollywood has also added fever to the quit crusade. This past May, the Motion Picture Association of America decided to add smoking in films as a factor in their rating system.
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