Friday, April 2, 2010

Health Burden of Tobacco Use

I used to smoke cigarettes so I know from experience how bad it is. Quitting smoking was one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I gained weight, got very crabby, and failed miserably the first dozen times I tried. Fortunately I was finally successful and have not had a cigarette since September 11, 2001.

Tobacco use is the single most preventable cause of disease, disability, and death in the United States. Each year, an estimated 443,000 people die prematurely from smoking or exposure to secondhand smoke, and another 8.6 million have a serious illness caused by smoking. Despite these risks, approximately 46 million U.S. adults smoke cigarettes. Smokeless tobacco, cigars, and pipes also have deadly consequences, including lung, larynx, esophageal, and oral cancers.

The harmful effects of smoking do not end with the smoker. More than 126 million nonsmoking Americans, including children and adults, are regularly exposed to secondhand smoke. Even brief exposure can be dangerous because nonsmokers inhale many of the same carcinogens and toxins in cigarette smoke as smokers.

Secondhand smoke exposure causes serious disease and death, including heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults and sudden infant death syndrome, acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and more frequent and severe asthma attacks in children. Each year, primarily because of exposure to secondhand smoke, an estimated 3,000 nonsmoking Americans die of lung cancer, more than 46,000 die of heart disease, and about 150,000–300,000 children younger than 18 months have lower respiratory tract infections.

Coupled with this enormous health toll is the significant economic burden of tobacco use: more than $96 billion per year in medical expenditures and another $97 billion per year resulting from lost productivity.


There have been a lot of efforts to use public policy to curb tobacco use. The Roberts Wood Johnson Foundation has an excellent interactive map which gives a great overview of state efforts on tobacco control policies:
For the first time, a new, interactive map from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation will give policy-makers and advocates a nationwide picture of continuing state efforts on key tobacco control policies.

“Users will be able to see whether a state is ahead or behind the curve in protecting and promoting health,” says Michelle Larkin, J.D., M.S., R.N., leader of RWJF’s Public Health Team.

The RWJF Tobacco Map uses data from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids and the Americans for Non-Smokers’ Rights and will be updated as new information becomes available. The tool is easily shareable by hyperlink or embeddable code.

The “map” is actually three distinct maps, each focusing on a different aspect of tobacco policy. They provide state-by-state breakdowns on smoke-free laws, cigarette tax rates and total tobacco control spending. The breakdowns include population, timeline and other information to help present a complete picture of each state’s efforts.

“We know from the research that the two most effective policies to pursue are raising tobacco taxes and putting smoke-free air laws into place,” says Larkin, adding that “these two policies help to prevent youth from ever starting to smoke and they also help smokers quit.”

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