Cigarette smoking accounts for approximately a third of all cancers, including 90% of lung cancer cases, says Professor Michael Herbst of the Cancer Association of South Africa (CANSA). In addition to lung cancer, tobacco use also increases the risk of cancer of the oesophagus, mouth, bladder, pancreas, kidney, stomach, cervix and breast.
Also, not only does smoking increase your risk of getting cancer, it also reduces your likelihood of surviving the disease. “Studies have shown that patients with cancer who have a history of smoking have a worse prognosis than non-smokers," explains Herbst. Basically, long-term exposure to tobacco smoke can change the way that your body reacts to or processes certain cancer drugs, potentially making them less effective.
The dangers of passive smoking
Smoking also increases the risk of cancer in those who don't smoke, but are close to those who do. Second-hand (or passive) smoke has been classified as a “Class A Carcinogen” by the United States Environmental Protection Agency because of the clear and consistent evidence that it causes lung cancer in adults who don't smoke.
"Over the past two decades, medical research has shown that non-smokers suffer many of the diseases of active smoking when they breathe second-hand smoke," confirms Herbst.
Don't be fooled by these ‘safer alternatives’!
While cigarettes are no doubt the main culprits, so-called ‘safer alternatives’ are not as harmless as their manufacturers would like you to think they are:
- Hookahs: Although you may smoke a hookah less frequently, you will probably take in the equivalent of 10 cigarettes' worth of smoke in a single (45-minute) session. Contrary to popular belief, the smoke you inhale is not any cleaner than cigarette smoke. “Hookah and cigarette smoke both contain poisons, including nicotine, tar, carbon monoxide, arsenic and lead,” confirms Professor Herbst.
- Roll-your-own cigarettes: Rolling your own cigarettes doesn't make them any healthier. In a study published in the journal Addiction Biology in 2009, researchers compared the urine samples of those who smoked factory-made cigarettes with those who smoked the roll-your-own variety. The researchers were testing for levels of particular molecules that our bodies make when they break down two cancer-causing chemicals found in tobacco smoke. There was no significant difference in the levels of these chemicals between the two groups.
- Electronic cigarettes: The safety of e-cigarettes – battery-powered devices that heat liquid to deliver nicotine in a vapour form – has not yet been properly established. One study by the US Food and Drug Administration found cancer-causing chemicals in half the e-cigarette samples tested. Another, albeit limited, study at the Portland State University in Oregon found that if the voltage on e-cigarettes is increased (to deliver more nicotine), the e-cigarette vapour can contain carcinogenic formaldehyde at levels up to 15 times higher than regular cigarettes.
- Chewing tobacco: It's not just the smoke that's bad for you. According to the National Cancer Institute in the US, at least 28 chemicals in smokeless tobacco – including tobacco-specific nitrosamines – have been found to cause cancer. Smokeless tobacco increases the risk of oral cancer, oesophageal cancer and pancreatic cancer.
For more info
Visit the CANSA website or call CANSA's helpline on 0800 22 66 22.
How Clicks can help you quit smoking
Clicks has launched stop-smoking service, GoSmokeFree, at selected Clicks clinics.
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