Even a puff of tobacco is harmful, report says

By Rob Stein
Friday, December 10, 2010; A23

As part of the Obama administration's campaign against smoking, the surgeon general released a new report Thursday detailing how tobacco causes cancer, heart attacks and many other ailments and why it is so addictive.

The 704-page report, the 30th surgeon general's report to address tobacco, "validates earlier findings, expands and strengthens the science base, and describes in great detail the multiple ways that tobacco smoke damages every organ in the body, resulting in disease and death," according to its executive summary.

Tobacco smoke contains more than 7,000 chemicals and compounds, including hundreds that are toxic and at least 70 that cause cancer, according to the report. That means there is no "risk-free level of exposure" to tobacco smoke. Even a whiff of tobacco smoke can adversely affect the body, the report concludes.

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

The lining of the lungs becomes inflamed as soon as it is exposed to cigarette smoke, and, over time, the smoke can cause chronic lung diseases such as emphysema and chronic bronchitis, according to the report. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause heart disease and can trigger heart attacks. Chemicals in tobacco smoke quickly damage blood vessels and make blood more likely to clot, increasing the risk for heart attacks, strokes and aneurysms.

Smoking also makes it harder for diabetics to control their blood sugar and harder for women to get pregnant, and it increases the risk for miscarriages, premature births, and babies being born underweight and with damaged lungs and brains.

There is no evidence that adding filters to cigarettes has made them safer or that "low-tar" and "light" cigarettes are any less dangerous, according to the report. In fact, modern cigarettes are designed to be addictive, delivering nicotine more quickly and efficiently than ever, helping explain why so many people get hooked so quickly and have such a hard time quitting, the report concludes.

But "this report makes it clear - quitting at any time gives your body a chance to heal the damage caused by smoking," Benjamin said. "It's never too late to quit, but the sooner you do it, the better."

Matthew L. Myers, president of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, said in a statement, "This latest report is a stark reminder of how lethal and addictive smoking truly is, with every cigarette doing you damage."

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