We may be vastly underestimating the impact of smoking on public health, according to a recent study that identified several new smoking-related diseases.
Current estimates suggest that risk of death among current smokers is two to three times higher than people who never smoked. So far, researchers have formally established 21 common diseases caused by cigarette smoking, including twelve types of cancer, six types of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pneumonia. However, it’s very likely that smoking causes many additional diseases that have yet to be formally recognized by health organizations.
To learn more, researchers pooled data from five large U.S. studies that included nearly 1 million men and women. All study participants provided information about their smoking status at the start of the study and were followed for various health outcomes from 2000 through 2011.
Study findings, which were recently published in the New England Journal of Medicine, reported that 17% of deaths among current smokers were caused by conditions that are not yet recognized as smoking-related diseases. For example, current smokers had twice the risk of kidney failure. Male smokers had 40% greater risk of prostate cancer, yet these diseases are not officially linked to smoking.
Based on these findings, authors conclude that we are significantly underestimating the number of deaths caused by smoking. Tobacco smoke contains a deadly mix of more than 7,000 chemicals, which makes it difficult to identify exactly which chemicals cause certain diseases. Thus, experts believe it’s important to take this into account when considering the burden that smoking has on public health. Researchers also hope for future research on the issue to better understand the many diseases related to smoking and further reduce the number of current smokers in the United States.