Virtually everyone knows about the many dangers that come along with a long-term smoking habit. People who puff on cigarettes year after year face a greatly elevated risk of lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, emphysema and many other health problems. According to a recent report by the US Surgeon General, a number of other diseases can be added to the list, including diabetes and colon cancer.
The January 2014 report – the 32nd issued by the Surgeon General on the topic of tobacco – found that a wide range of medical conditions and disease could be attributed to smoking. The health-related problems listed in the report are shown below:
- Type 2 Diabetes
- Colon cancer
- Liver cancer
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Weakened immune system
- Reduced fertility
- Erectile dysfunction
- Macular Degeneration
With regards to Type 2 diabetes, the Surgeon General’s report stressed smokers increase their risk of developing this condition by 30 to 40 percent.
The Surgeon General also had a warning to those exposed to second-hand smoke. The report noted these individuals may later fall victim to strokes. Specifically, these individuals were 20 to 30 percent more likely to suffer a stroke at some point in their lives.
The Link to Diabetes and Colorectal Cancer
Per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are nearly 26 million diabetics in the United States. An estimated 90 to 95 percent of these cases are classified as type 2 diabetes. The body develops this condition due to problems with insulin, a hormone produced by the pancreas. Insulin is used by the body to either store or expend blood glucose (blood sugar).
Type 2 diabetes occurs when the pancreas no longer makes a sufficient amount of insulin, or the body becomes unable to utilize the insulin it produces. In either case, the body experiences insulin resistance, causing glucose to accumulate within the patient’s bloodstream. This build up of glucose triggers the telltale signs and symptoms of type 2 diabetes, such as increased thirst, increased hunger, fatigue, blurry vision, nausea, vomiting and numbness in the hands and feet. More alarmingly, patients may also experience kidney damage, high blood pressure, deteriorating vision and infections in the knees and feet.
Smoking can either cause or significantly contribute to insulin resistance, thereby leading to the onset of type 2 diabetes. In addition, diabetics who smoke can easily exacerbate their symptoms, as this habit tends to increase blood sugar levels.
Research has long found a connection between colorectal cancer and smoking. This link can largely be explained by the presence of carcinogens, substances directly responsible for the development of cancer. Tobacco-filled products like cigarettes allow a steady stream of carcinogens to flow into the colon. Another possible explanation is that smoking can increase the size of intestinal growths known as polyps. The risk that a polyp becomes cancerous generally increases with its size.
Smoking’s Death Toll
The numerous problems caused by smoking translate into hundreds of thousands of early deaths every year. In 2008, an estimated 440,000 Americans died as a result of smoking-related illnesses, a figure that has risen to 480,000 over the last few years. Since the first Surgeon General’s report on tobacco in 1964, smoking has claimed the lives of more than 20 million Americans.
Despite these sobering figures, there is some reason for optimism. Consider that in the year 1964, roughly 42% of adult Americans were regular smokers. Today, that figure has been more than halved to 18%. Furthermore, evidence suggests that anti-smoking efforts have a major impact on public health in the last half-century. Research published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) reported that measures like advertising restrictions and cigarette taxes have prevented 8 million premature deaths.