The American Cancer Society reports that cigarettes are the single largest contributor to cancer deaths in the United States. Every year, 430,000 people die of smoking-related illnesses, and 30 million Americans are now living with some type of lung disease.
Cells in the human body divide constantly, replacing themselves when necessary. Sometimes, cells divide when they are not needed, forming a growth called a tumor. If the cell division stops and leaves a non-harmful mass, the tumor is "benign." Sometimes, however, the growth does not stop; it continues uncontrollably, without order. In this case, the tumor is "malignant." A malignant tumor often spreads, or "metastasizes," to other parts of the body.
Cancer can start in just about any organ. When it begins in the lining of the airways, such as the trachea (the "windpipe") or the alveoli (the air sacs), it is known as lung cancer. Some uncontrollable factors, such as age, can contribute to lung cancer, but over 80% of lung cancer cases are smoking-related and thus can be prevented. Symptoms include chronic coughing and wheezing, bloody phlegm, chest pain, shortness of breath, and recurring bronchitis and pneumonia. According to the American Lung Association, lung cancer killed 156,000 people in the U.S. in the year 2000.
Emphysema is a lung disease involving damage to the alveoli. In cases of emphysema, the tissue of the lungs, normally stretchy, becomes dry and pale. Due to this loss of elasticity, the lungs never completely deflate or inflate, and old air is never completely expelled. Emphysema sufferers quickly lose their breath when they exert themselves physically. Their skin takes on a bluish tint, they wheeze constantly, and they frequently complain of pain and tightness in the chest. Over 90% of all cases of emphysema are caused directly by smoking.
HOW SMOKING AFFECTS YOU
If you do not smoke, your risk for these and other diseases is greatly decreased. However, smoking still affects your daily life. Smoking costs our country $97 billion dollars per year in health care and production loss. In addition, the American Cancer Society says that second-hand smoke contributes to as many as 3000 cases of lung disease each year.
If you are thinking about smoking, consider this: 75% of those who start smoking are still doing so six years later. Furthermore, 90% of smokers in the United States today took up smoking before their 21st birthday. The decision to smoke is one that will most likely stay with you for the rest of your life.