10 Tobacco Facts Your Patients Need to Know

December 10, 2010
Laura Enderle, Assistant Editor

Even just one cigarette is enough to cause immediate damage to a person’s lungs and DNA, according to a new federal report. The same goes for exposure to secondhand smoke, which contains toxins that quickly reach the lungs and wreak havoc on tissues and cells.

“The chemicals in tobacco smoke reach your lungs quickly every time you inhale causing damage immediately,” US Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said. “Inhaling even the smallest amount of tobacco smoke can also damage your DNA, which can lead to cancer.”

The report, called “How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Disease,” details the impact of exposure to tobacco smoke on the body’s systems, its role in causing and exacerbating chronic illnesses, and the extent to which tobacco products are addictive. Among other facts in the report:

1. Modern cigarettes are “designed for addiction,” delivering nicotine more quickly and effectively than ever before.

2. DNA damage from even small amounts of tobacco exposure can lead to cancer.

3. Repeated exposure to tobacco smoke weakens the body’s ability to heal damage.

4. Smoking is the cause of more than 85% of cancers, and 1 in 3 cancer-related deaths is attributed to smoking.

5. Smoking causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

6. Brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease and increases risk of heart attack, stroke, and aortic aneurysm.

7. Exposure to tobacco smoke decreases the benefits of chemotherapy.

8. Smoking makes it more difficult for patients with diabetes to control blood sugar.

9. Smoking affects fertility and can cause miscarriage, preterm delivery, low birth weight, and damage to fetal lungs and brain tissue.

10. Infants exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome.

The findings galvanized federal support for smoking cessation efforts, which have been stepped up in recent years.

A user-friendly guide to the report, created for health care professionals, is available here. The guide is also available in a patient-centered version, which pharmacists can distribute as part of smoking cessation counseling sessions. Printed copies of both handouts can be ordered from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site here and here.

“This report makes it clear—quitting at any time gives your body a chance to heal the damage caused by smoking,” the Surgeon General said. "It's never too late to quit, but the sooner you do it, the better."