A new report today from the Office of the US Surgeon General says there is no safe level of exposure to tobacco smoke.
“Casual smokers think they are improving their health by cutting back, but there is no safe level,” Dr. Tim McAfee told CNN, . “It affects people’s DNA immediately, and their heart and blood vessels literally seconds to minutes after being exposed.”
McAfee is director of the Office on Smoking and Health at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He is one of 64 scientists who worked on the report. McAfee tells CNN all exposure to smoke is harmful, secondhand smoke is no less dangerous.
In Rhode Island, 53,000 children a day are exposed to secondhand smoke at home, according to The Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids.
Adolescents’ bodies are even more sensitive to nicotine, and teens are more easily addicted than adults, says Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. This helps explain why 1,000 teens a day start smoking nationally – that breaks down to 1,400 Ocean State teenagers annually who start smoking.
The US Department of Health and Human Services report fact sheet says cigarette smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals and compounds, many are toxic and more than 70 are known to cause cancer. Nearly one-third of all cancer deaths every year are directly linked to smoking. Smoking causes about 85% of lung cancers.
Benjamin explains how the chemicals in tobacco smoke cause inflammation, cell damage, and weakens the immune system by raising the white blood cell count – keeping the body busy fighting the damage caused by smoking, and ignoring other infections or diseases.
The tobacco industry spends 35 million dollars a year targeting Rhode Islanders. Over 2 million packs of cigarettes are bought or smoked by kids in the Ocean State each year, according to the Health Department.
USA Today says according to the report, about 40 million Americans smoke, that’s 20% of adults and older teens. Tobacco kills more than 443,000 people a year.
That means smoking kills more people than alcohol, AIDS, car crashes, illegal drugs, murders, and suicides combined, according to the Campaign for Tobacco-free kids. They estimate there are 23,000 kids alive in Rhode Island right now, who will eventually die prematurely because of cigarettes.
The Surgeon General says smoking costs the country more than $193 billion a year in health care costs and lost productivity. In Rhode Island, the DOH estimates healthcare costs associated with tobacco use exceed $500 million annually.
Damage from tobacco smoke is immediate, but the benefits of quitting are as well.
Here’s just some of the improvements your body makes:
Just 20 minutes after you quit:
- Your blood pressure decreases
- Your heart rate decreases
- The temperature of your extremities increases
After 8 hours of not smoking:
- The level of carbon monoxide in your blood drops to normal
- The level of oxygen in your blood increases to normal
After 24 hours without a cigarette:
- Your chance of heart attack decreases
A mere 48 hours after you stop lighting up:
- Your nerve endings will start to regrow
- Your ability to smell and taste improves
The US has come a long way since 1964 when then Surgeon General Dr. Luther L. Terry first warned the nation of the dangers of smoking, according to Tobacco.org. The site reminds people, the US was then a country where over 50% of adult males smoked; 46% of all Americans smoked; where smoking was accepted in offices, airplanes and elevators, and where even cartoon TV programs were sponsored by cigarette brands.
Today, Rhode Island is one of 29 states (Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico as well) that have passed smoke-free laws that cover restaurants and bars.
Ready to quit? Call 1-800-QUIT-NOW and get started with a smoking cessation plan today.