Here is good news: The proportion of American adults who smoke cigarettes has reached a new low, according to a national health survey.
And many of those who do smoke aren't smoking as many cigarettes.
The study, conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that 17.8 percent of U.S. adults — 42.1 million people — were "current cigarette smokers" in 2013. That's the lowest percentage since the annual survey began in 1965.
The proportion of current smokers who smoke every day fell from 80.8 percent in 2005 to 76.9 percent in 2013. And even those daily smokers are lighting fewer cigarettes, from 16.7 per day in 2007 to 14.2 a day in 2013 (though quitting, not cutting back, has far and away greater health benefits).
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable death in the U.S., killing 480,000 Americans each year. And for every American who dies, more than 30 live with smoking-related diseases. This costs the economy $289 billion in annual health costs and lost productivity.
So in addition to saving lives, smoking cessation saves money. It also offers an example of how public policy might help with the broader problem of drug abuse.
The battle against smoking has been the most successful — some would say the only successful — anti-drug effort in the last 50 years. It was not accomplished by throwing users in jail and ruining their lives. It was accomplished with education, taxation, smoke-free places, quit-smoking programs and similar measures. There's a lesson there.
Of course, if 42 million people are still smoking, there's work to be done. For example, the rate of decline in cigar smoking among teenagers has slowed. Also, according to the report, smoking among some groups remains high, one of which is people living below the poverty line.
The many toxins in cigarette smoke don't discriminate based on socioeconomic class; they make everyone sick. Let's get the word out to everyone.
According to the American Cancer Society, second-hand smoke, also known as environmental tobacco smoke (ETS), is responsible for an estimated thirty-five thousand deaths from heart disease in non-smokers who live with smokers.
It is widely known that cigarette smoke could lead to the development of fatal cancers in both smokers and non-smokers. So what about our pets? Could your second-hand smoke be killing your four-legged friend? "There is very little known about the effects of ETS on animals," notes Dr. Heather Wilson, an oncology specialist at the Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences
While little may be known about the direct effects second-hand smoke has on pets, there have been several instances where it has been shown to increase the risk of certain cancers in animals."We do know that ETS increases a cat's risk of Squamous cell carcinoma, a type of tumor that occurs commonly in the mouth," says Dr. Wilson. "Laboratory studies using dogs trained to smoke cigarettes have shown that they develop typical lung pathology similar to those in humans, specifically bronchopneumonia, emphysema, fibrosis of the lungs and tumors of the lungs and bronchi."
Even though these studies are old and certainly not condoned by Texas A&M University, these and similar studies seem to show that ETS is harmful to animals. Again, it is important to note that there exists no compelling evidence to suggest that second-hand smoke will inevitably cause cancer. "There are potential links to other tumors in dogs and cats, but no hard evidence to support it as a problem," comments Dr. Wilson. "It is likely one of the many factors that cause cancer, rather than producing a simple cause and effect relationship."
As a veterinary oncology specialist, Dr. Wilson sees numerous patients every day and investigates cancers regularly. When asked if the owner's smoking habits had any direct affect on their pets, she found that there existed no conclusive relationship between the two. However, that does not mean that smoking around pets should continue without concern. "We almost never see anything as a direct result of second-hand smoke," emphasizes Dr. Wilson. "Still, there are cats with asthma that cannot tolerate being around smoke, especially when smoking increases the frequency of asthma attacks. There are also other primary lung diseases that are made worse by cigarette smoking, but there are no tumors that we can specifically say are a direct result of ETS exposure."
Knowing that ETS increases the risk of certain cancers in our furry friends, it is important to understand which animals are more susceptible to cancers. "Siamese cats are at a greater risk of developing tumors," says Dr. Wilson. "In dogs, the most commonly affected breeds include golden retrievers, German shepherds, rottweilers, boxers and Bernese mountain dogs. However, most pure bred dogs have an increased risk of some form of cancer."
Because ETS could cause certain cancers in our furry companions, it is important to take the necessary precautions when lighting up. Dr. Wilson suggests several preventative measures to take around your pets. "The best thing to do is to stop smoking. It is good for both your health and theirs," urges Dr. Wilson. "Carcinogens are carried on your fingers and around your mouth because of all the oily toxins that are deposited there. The toxins stay in the furniture and carpets for a long time and are impossible to get rid of. These toxins are often the carcinogens of the cigarettes, so stopping smoking all together is the best way to protect yourself and your pet." However, if you can't quit cold turkey, Wilson suggests "smoking outside or in areas away from your pet."
While ETS has not been proven to be a direct cause of cancer in pets, its ability to increase the risk of cancer in our furry companions is hazardous enough. So before you light up another cigarette, think twice about the health of your loving friend and take the necessary precautions to ensure their well-being.