America has given up the fight against lung cancer. Look no further than the facts to get a very clear view of how big tobacco companies with their bags of money and their army of deeply entrenched lobbying groups have effectively locked out any political opposition to tobacco and smoking. How else can you explain how cigarettes are legal? Everyone for smoking and big tobacco states “It’s a choice!” Furthermore, advocates point to alcohol and its addicting quality and how too much can result in serious health issues, but it is legal. True. But, comparing the health effects of alcohol to cigarettes is like comparing a grenade to an atomic bomb. How so? Alcoholic liver disease causes approximately 17,000 deaths per year. Tobacco use leads to 443,000 deaths per year. You can’t die from alcohol because the person next to you drinks too much. There are approximately 49,000 deaths due to exposure from secondhand smoke. The defense for something this wrong should not be for smoking and cigarette advocates to say “don’t look at us, look over there.” That argument doesn’t work for your children when they do something wrong so why should it work for big tobacco? Every scientific article published in the last 30 years points to smoking as the biggest killer and biggest drain on federal healthcare dollars. The entire field of pulmonary medicine originated in large part from just this one factor, smoking tobacco.
The tobacco facts from the National Cancer Institute (http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/tobacco/smoking) are bullets that kill any argument from the pro- cigarettes and smoking crowd:
Tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable illness and death in the United States. It causes many different cancers as well as chronic lung diseases, such as emphysema and bronchitis, and heart disease.
Cigarette smoking causes an estimated 443,000 deaths each year, including approximately 49,000 deaths due to exposure to secondhand smoke.
· Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among both men and women in the United States, and 90 percent of lung cancer deaths among men and approximately 80 percent of lung cancer deaths among women are due to smoking.
· Smoking causes many other types of cancer, including cancers of the throat, mouth, nasal cavity, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, and cervix, and acute myeloid leukemia.
· People who smoke are up to six times more likely to suffer a heart attack than nonsmokers, and the risk increases with the number of cigarettes smoked. Smoking also causes most cases of chronic lung disease.
· In 2011, an estimated 19 percent of U.S. adults were cigarette smokers.
· Nearly 16 percent of high school students smoke cigarettes.
Smoking is also a major contributor to many chronic diseases that are driving up the nation’s health care costs. Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), diseases caused by cigarette smoking result in $96 billion in health care costs each year, much of which is paid by taxpayers through publicly-funded health programs. BTW, that comes out to $300 per year from every man, woman, and child in America! This does not even include all the federal dollars spent on tobacco prevention programs and public awareness campaigns on the dangers of smoking.
So, ask yourself, if something is this harmful to society and responsible for so many deaths in this country, why is it legal? I truly can’t come up with an explanation. Federal government outlawed asbestos and lead paint but why not cigarettes? Interestingly, you can’t die from cigarette withdrawal. Smoking is an addiction but eliminating access at every gas station, drugstore, and free standing vending machine would still have a positive effect. Smoking starts young and the lack of easy availability is just the first step. There are more actions we can take as a society, including teaching our children about the harmful effects of smoking. Pushing smoking out of restaurants and stores is helpful but not enough. The first and easiest step should be to outlaw something so harmful. We just can’t continue to ignore the biggest killer in America.
About the author: Raja P. Reddy, MD is a board certified diagnostic radiologist specializing in breast imaging. He is also a managing director and healthcare business consultant for King & Prat, a boutique firm that provides private equity placement and consulting resources to help businesses overcome operational challenges and develop momentum for growth.