A surgeon general’s report released today underscores what’s been known for decades–that being a cigarette smoker is the single best way to get sick and die young. In the past 50 years, over 20 million premature deaths in the US can be linked to smoking.
The report specifies even more diseases that seem to be caused by smoking, on top of the obvious ones like lung cancer and emphysema. The list now includes such wide ranging conditions as macular degeneration (a common cause of blindness), diabetes, erectile dysfunction, and rheumatoid arthritis, among others. Being exposed to secondhand smoke increases the risk for stroke.
And yet, an estimated 45 million Americans still smoke. Part of the reason may be that smokers–especially ones who are young and haven’t started hacking and coughing–may feel like “it won’t happen to me.”
But what about smokers who have terrible smoking-related health problems, like cancer of the lung, head, or neck? If ever there were a group that would be motivated to quit, this would be it! Nevertheless, a recent review found that even these individuals were unlikely to stop smoking. For example, one of the larger studies in the review found that 70% of cancer patients continued to smoke–even after getting smoking cessation treatment.
As I discussed in a previous post, quitting smoking is really hard, and simply being motivated often is not enough to get a person there. While existing treatments help, there’s obviously plenty of room for improvement. Researchers and clinicians continue to work to develop more effective medications and psychotherapies. With effective treatment, more ex-smokers get to enjoy added years of better quality life.