The Food and Drug Administration is taking initial steps to ban menthol cigarettes and begin limiting teenagers’ access to e-cigarettes and other vaping devices because tobacco use remains a huge health risk and a major factor in healthcare spending.
Here’s why we still need to take on tobacco:
It’s the #1 cause of preventable disease and death in the United States
In 1965, when the U.S. Surgeon General released a landmark report warning of the serious health risks from smoking, about 42 percent of American adults smoked. Now that percentage is down to about 14 percent—the result of decades of research, effective public policies and enormous personal effort among millions who quit.
Still, tobacco use is the leading cause of preventable disease and death, causing 480,000 deaths every year. That’s more than AIDs, alcohol, car accidents, illegal drugs, murders and suicides combined. Among nearly 200,000 youth who become regular, daily smokers each year, almost a third will likely die from it.
Being a non-smoker doesn’t fully insulate against tobacco’s harms. Second-hand smoke causes a wide range of health problems in adults and children. For example, children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems, and more severe asthma.
It’s a leading cause of chronic illness
About 86-cents of every healthcare dollar is spent treating or managing chronic illness. Besides causing lung cancer, smoking is a known cause of cancer of the larynx, oral cavity, bladder, pancreas, cervix, kidney, stomach, blood, liver, colon and rectum, and esophagus.
Tobacco use is a leading cause of cardiovascular disease—about a third of all coronary heart disease deaths each year are attributable to smoking. It’s also a factor in hypertension and stroke. According to the Surgeon General, smoking also causes: diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and immune system weakness, increased risk for tuberculosis disease and death, ectopic (tubal) pregnancy and impaired fertility, cleft lip and cleft palates in babies of women who smoke during early pregnancy, erectile dysfunction, and age-related macular degeneration.
It harms the health of teens and young adults
More than a million high school students—7.6 percent--smoke cigarettes, and more than 5 percent use smokeless tobacco. Nicotine’s influence on the developing teenage brain is quick. In some cases, a teenager can begin to become addicted to nicotine within 1 or 2 days of first inhaling from a cigarette. Besides putting kids at risk for future health problems such as cancer and other illnesses, brain development is affected. Several studies have shown that adolescent tobacco use is associated with later risk of developing mental and behavioral problems such as major depressive disorder, agoraphobia, panic disorder, addiction to other substances, antisocial personality disorder and academic problems.
E-cigarettes and other similar products contain nicotine—some as much nicotine as a full pack of cigarettes. That’s the key reason the FDA is taking action to curtail them.
It drives health disparities
Though smoking among Americans has declined dramatically overall, those who still smoke or use other tobacco products tend to have lower incomes and less education than those who are tobacco-free.
There are ethnic disparities as well. For example, though African-Americans usually smoke fewer cigarettes and start smoking cigarettes at an older age, they are more likely to die from smoking-related diseases than are whites. Historically, the tobacco industry has marketed aggressively to African-Americans and research shows more tobacco advertising is placed in African-American neighborhoods and publications. Menthol cigarettes in particular have been promoted to African-Americans, and nearly
9 of every 10 African American smokers 12 years and older prefer menthol cigarettes.
Other groups who disproportionately suffer from the ill effects of tobacco include those with mental health and substance abuse disorders and the LBGT community.
It adds billions in healthcare costs
The cost of treating diseases caused by tobacco is more than $300 billion each year. That includes $170 billion in direct medical spending and another $156 billion in lost productivity due to premature death and exposure to secondhand smoke. Everyone—smokers and nonsmokers, individuals and employers—pays. So do taxpayers: Tobacco-related costs in Medicare are an estimated $45 billion and in Medicaid the tab for tobacco is $39.6 billion.
See our infographic on the prevalence of e-cigarette usage among America’s youth.