If you are a baby boomer like me (born between 1945 and 1963), you have witnessed a unique public health phenomenon. Our mothers, who lived through the peri-WWII era, were the first generation who smoked a substantial number of cigarettes throughout their adult lives. This phenomenon has facilitated an in-depth observation of the prolonged effects of smoking on female mortality.
Over a million women in the United Kingdom (UK) have been followed from 1996 through 2011 via national mortality records.1 Critical findings have revealed outcomes related to all-cause mortality in this at-risk population. Among UK women (with similar United States parallels), two-thirds of all deaths of women in their 50s, 60s and 70s, were attributed to smoking.2 These women lost at least 10 years of life from this preventable lifestyle behavior. Additionally, irrespective of age, mortality was tripled in women still smoking at each 3-year resurvey period. Even for women smoking fewer than 10 cigarettes a day at baseline, 12-year mortality was doubled.
Another report of the relationship between smoking and cancer treatment-related side effects revealed important findings.3 Nearly 1,000 patients with a variety of malignancies were recruited and followed throughout their treatment and up to 6 months post-treatment cessation. An abbreviated version of the MD Anderson Symptom Inventory was used to evaluate 12 common symptoms (i.e., fatigue, hair loss, memory loss, nausea, depression, sleep problems, pain, difficulty concentrating, hot flashes, weight loss, skin problems, and dyspnea). Patients who continued to smoke during treatment experienced a significantly higher amount of symptom burden than nonsmokers. This trend continued at 6 months post-treatment. Positive findings revealed that those who quit smoking pretreatment had a total symptom burden that was similar to nonsmokers.
Smoking is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide.4 The United States remains in the dark ages as to implementing a national policy to eliminate exposure of this carcinogen to the American public. Leading the way is Australia who has recently announced that it will increase tax on cigarettes by 12.5% annually for the next 4 years such that the current cost of a pack of cigarettes will rise from $US 18 to $US 29 by 2020.5
Also, new legislation in Europe has recently mandated that at least 65% of the surface area of all packs of cigarettes will be covered in health warnings. This will be an important component of a host of European Union tobacco control measures.
Unlike Australia's characterization as a nation undertaking aggressive action to improve the health of its citizens, the United States remains focused on profit, and corporate and political indifference to the health hazards of its citizens. This is one major instance where the enormity of American presence and power is not even a blip on the radar screen.
- Health & Social Care Information Centre. (2011). Statistics on Smoking: England, 2011.
- Pirie K, Peto R, Reeves GK, et al. (2013). The 21st century hazards of smoking and benefits of stopping: A prospective study of one million women in the UK. Lancet, Jan 12;381(9861):133-41.
- Peppone LJ, Mustian KM, Morrow GR, et al. (2011). The Effect of Cigarette Smoking on Cancer Treatment-Related Side Effects. Oncologist, Dec; 16(12): 1784–1792.
- Peto R, Whitlock G, Jha P. (2010). Effects of Obesity and Smoking on U.S. Life Expectancy. N Engl J Med, Mar 4;362(9):855-6.
- Kirby T. (2016). Australia tax increases to price cigarettes out of reach. Lancet Oncol, May 12. pii: S1470-2045(16)30136-X.