TIME medicine

Smokers Don’t Think a Few Cigarettes Will Harm Their Health

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Nearly everyone knows that smoking is harmful for your health. But some refuse to admit that their habits may be killing them

Heart disease, lung cancer, throat cancer, diabetes—the list of bad things that smoking does to your health is long and growing longer. Thanks to public health warnings and education campaigns, most of us have heard that cigarettes can be dangerous to your wellbeing and can shorten your life.

But one group who should be getting that message loud and clear may be in a bit of denial. In a study of more than 1,600 French smokers and non-smokers, 34% said that lighting up 10 cigarettes a day would not put them at higher risk of lung cancer. And fewer than 40% knew that their risk of lung cancer wouldn’t disappear if even if they quit smoking. The results were presented at the European Lung Cancer Conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

“The fact that one third of subjects wrongly considered that a daily consumption of up to 10 cigarettes was not associated with any risk of lung cancer is particularly impressive and threatening,” writes study author Dr. Laurent Greillier from Aix Marseille University in response to questions about the findings.

The results were especially worrisome since the participants in the study were 40 years old to 75 years old and therefore spent most of their adult lives hearing strong public health warnings about the dangers of smoking. That means that while anti-smoking campaigns have been effective, they may not have educated people deeply enough about the dangers of tobacco. That’s especially true for people who engage in what they consider to be “safe” or “light” smoking, the study finds. “Our results suggest that public health policies must continue to focus on the tobacco pandemic, and notably initiate campaigns concerning the risk of any cigarette,” says Greillier.

TIME

Shorter People More at Risk From Heart Disease Says Study

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Roy Hsu—Getty Images/Uppercut Short business man standing next to tall man

"If you're 6ft 1in, you still need to stop smoking"

A study of nearly 200,000 men and women found that shorter people have a higher risk of heart disease than their taller counterparts.

Every 2.5 inches up reduce the risk of heart disease by 13.5 percent, according to the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

Scientists have long considered there to be a link between height and heart health, but the latest research found that genes controlling height were directly linked to heart disease risks.

To be sure, height is only one of many factors that affect the level of risk.

“In the context of major risk factors this is small – smoking increases the risk by 200-300% – but it is not trivial,” Nilesh Samani, a professor of cardiology at the University of Leicester and lead author of the study, told the BBC News website. “If you’re 6ft 1in, you still need to stop smoking.”

TIME Cancer

How We’re Failing at Preventing Cancer

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JUAN GARTNER—Getty Images/Science Photo Library RF Illustration of cancer cells in middle of dividing

We’ve made lots of progress in preventing cancer, but still have a long way to go in convincing people to drop the most prevalent cancer-causing habits

You have to know your enemy in order to defeat it, and in cancer’s case, we know quite a bit about how to keep tumors from growing. But how well are we exploiting this knowledge?

The latest report, published Wednesday morning, from the American Cancer Society lays out the major risk factors for cancer, along with the screening strategies we have in place and documents whether people have been avoiding risky behaviors and complying with screening guidelines.

The results, says Stacey Fedewa, director of risk factors and screening surveillance and one of the co-authors, are mixed.

MORE: The Cancer Gap

When it comes to tobacco use, the largest preventable cause of cancer, rates of smoking have declined, from 23.5% in 1999 to 17.8% in 2013. But there are still pockets of the country, both geographically and demographically, where rates remain close to what they were 10 years ago. In West Virginia, for example, 27.3% of adults smoked cigarettes, and 22.7% of American Indians lit up. About 22% of high school graduates smoked, compared to 5.6% of those with a graduate degree. Smoking tobacco increases the risk of lung, mouth, larynx, esophagus, stomach and other cancers

The survey also found that smokeless tobacco and e-cigarettes are also becoming popular, particularly among younger people. These forms of tobacco have been linked to higher rates of oral, pancreatic and esophageal cancer. People aged 18 to 24 years were twice as likely to use smokeless products like chewing tobacco and snuff than older adults.

The creep of tobacco use into younger cohorts is concerning, since studies show that the younger smokers start, the harder it is for them to quit. In fact, the ACS study found that even one in 10 cancer patients smoked nearly a decade after their diagnosis.

MORE: 66% of People Diagnosed with Cancer Survive At Least 5 Years

Fedewa says that obesity is also connected to a number of cancers, including breast, colon, kidney, pancreas and certain lymphomas and myelomas. And while obesity rates have stabilized, they remain high, with more than two thirds of adults considered overweight or obese. That rate may not change for a while, given the fact that in 2013, 30% of adults said they had no recreational physical activity at all. “I was surprised to see how low the percent of adults who reach the recommended physical activity levels was,” says Fedewa. Government guidelines suggest at least 150 minutes of moderate activity each week, and only about half of adults accomplish this.

Screening is another area with both good news and bad news. Public health messages about the importance of getting mammograms to detect breast cancer, and colonoscopy to pick up colorectal cancer, have raised awareness about these diseases. But rates of colon cancer screening have remained around 58%. Part of the reason may have to do with cost; studies showed that uninsured people tend to have the lowest rates of cancer screening, something that the Affordable Care Act should change. It’s also possible that conflicting news about the benefits and risks of screening, and changing advice about who should be screened and when — in 2009 groups said that women between ages 40 and 40 years no longer needed annual mammograms — may also hamper compliance.

More studies are also throwing out clues about the best anti-cancer diet, with fruits and vegetables at the top of the list. But, says Fedewa, “only 15% of adults ate the recommended three or more servings of vegetables a day. That’s surprising, and pretty low given all the messages about eating healthier.”

Also discouraging is the continued use of tanning beds despite the fact that the International Agency for Research on Cancer lists the devices as cancer-causing to people. In 2014, 4.4% of adults, and 20% of high school girls, reported using the beds in the previous year. That may explain why rates of melanoma, unlike some other cancers, have been increasing in the past 30 years.

“I don’t think there is one message” about how we’re doing in preventing cancer, says Fedewa. “It’s not all doom and gloom. There is a lot to be appreciated for what we’ve done in tobacco control; that’s a great public health accomplishment. But there is room to grow.”

TIME Addiction

A New Government Anti-Smoking Campaign Includes E-Cigs

Past campaigns have increased calls to quitlines by 80%

A new federal ad campaign against smoking features e-cigarettes for the first time.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its latest ad in its ongoing “Tips From Former Smokers” campaign. The campaign features real Americans who have experienced serious health or social consequences from smoking. Often the ads are explicit. On March 30, the first ad about e-cigarettes, as opposed to traditional tobacco, will air.

The ad features a 35-year-old woman named Kristy who picked up e-cigarettes as a way to quit smoking. She ended up using both products. Eventually she had a collapsed lung and was diagnosed with lung disease. She’s a married mother of three who works as a truck driver.

Kristy's Tip Print Full Page Ad
CDC

“Nationally, about 3 in 4 adult e-cigarette users also smoke cigarettes,” the CDC says in a statement. “If you only cut down the number of cigarettes you smoke by adding another tobacco product, like e-cigarettes, you still face serious health risks.”

Other ads focus on side effects like vision loss and colorectal cancer.

In 2014, the CDC says the national quit line received 80% more calls when the ads were on the air, and since 2012 the ads have generated more than 500,000 additional calls. The ads will run for 20 weeks on TV, radio, online, billboards, in theaters and in magazines and newspapers. Kristy’s ads will be on the radio and in print.

The ads encourage smokers to call 1-800-QUIT-NOW or visit www.cdc.gov/tips.

Read next: These 4D Ultrasound Photos Show How Fetuses Respond to Their Mothers’ Smoking

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TIME Smoking

These 4D Ultrasound Photos Show How Fetuses Respond to Their Mothers’ Smoking

See the difference between smokers and non-smokers

A group of researchers have released 4D ultrasound photographs that show the impact smoking during pregnancy has on fetus movement in the womb.

Dr Nadja Reissland, Durham University

The top row shows fetuses of smoking mothers and the bottom row represents those of non-smokers.

The study, out of Durham University in the UK, found that the fetuses of women who smoke have higher rates of facial touching and mouth movement — normally there would be a declining rate. This suggests that fetuses who are exposed to cigarettes have a delayed development in the central nervous system.

“These results point to the fact that nicotine exposure per se has an effect on fetal development over and above the effects of stress and depression,” lead researcher Dr. Nadja Reissland said in a release.

The study looked at 20 fetuses, four of which had mothers smoking an average of 14 cigarettes per day. Although researchers say that a larger study is needed to confirm the results.

Conclusion: Maybe don’t take your pregnancy health advice from Mad Men.

TIME Research

If Either of Your Parents Smoked, Go and Get Your Heart Checked Out

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Lasting damage may have been done

A study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulati suggests smoking in front of children may increase their chances of developing dangerous carotid plaque later in adulthood.

For the study, researchers used data gathered on Finnish children between 1980 and 1983, and were able to identify which children grew up in smoking households by noting the amount of cotinine that had been found in their blood samples. (Exposure to smoke increases the presence of cotinine in the blood.)

They then correlated this with examinations of the carotid artery conducted on those same — but now fully grown — individuals between 2001 and 2007.

They concluded from this that participants who had one or two parental smokers had an almost two times (1.7 times) greater risk of developing carotid plaque in adulthood compared with participants whose parents did not smoke, regardless of other factors.

The buildup of plaque can lead to the narrowing of the carotid arteries, which is linked to strokes.

The study’s findings add to the mounting evidence that exposure to smoking from parents has lasting effects on children’s physical health later in life, reports Science Daily.

Read next: 9 Subtle Signs You Could Have a Heart Problem

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TIME Smoking

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Tobacco

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Smokers lit up more than 5.8 trillion cigarettes in 2014

Despite killing 6 million people each year, tobacco use is still rampant worldwide, according to the new edition of the Tobacco Atlas, a report from the American Cancer Society and the World Lung Foundation. Drawn from the report, here are five startling tobacco facts worth knowing.

Smokers lit up more than 5.8 trillion cigarettes in 2014.

People have consistently been smoking fewer and fewer cigarettes for the last several decades in Europe and the Americas, but that improvement has been offset by growth of cigarette consumption in China. The average adult there smoked more than 2,000 cigarettes in 2014.

Tobacco kills at least half of its users.

People tend to think that lung cancer is responsible for tobacco-related deaths. It’s true: the disease kills more than a million smokers around the world every year. But lung cancer is just one of many tobacco-related ailments that can kill. Stroke, heart attack, bronchitis and emphysema are other top killers. And even if a smoker doesn’t get a disease caused by tobacco, smoking reduces the chances of surviving other conditions.

The tobacco industry spends billions of dollars annually promoting itself.

From charitable donations to lobbying, the tobacco industry spends heavily to win over users and supporters. In the United States, for instance, the tobacco industry has more than 150 lobbyists in Washington at an annual cost of more than $26 million, the report notes, and companies also donate millions to charities to improve their public image. But all of that pales in comparison to the money spent on traditional marketing campaigns, like billboards and magazine advertisements. The tobacco industry spends $900,000 every hour on advertising in the U.S., the report says—so if you spend five minutes reading this article, the tobacco industry will have spent $75,000 on marketing.

Cigarette manufacturers target the already vulnerable.

As people in developed nations like the U.S. increasingly realize the risks of smoking, the tobacco industry has invested resources in getting people in the developing world to adopt the habit. Faced with less regulation, the report says, marketing feeds the perception that smoking is not only “cool” but also provides health benefits. Smokers often ignore essentials to pay for their cigarette habit, finds the report. In high-income countries like Canada and France, nearly a third of male smokers are spending money on cigarettes and skimping on essentials like food. Nearly three-quarters of male smokers do the same in middle-income countries like Brazil and Thailand.

Regulation and public awareness campaigns have worked.

The report found some good news, too: a combination of regulation and public awareness can decrease the prevalence of smoking. Cigarette tax increases, for example, have been shown to improve the odds that smokers will quit and discourage people from picking up the practice in the first place. Other efforts like public smoking bans and restrictions on advertising have also had success, the authors say. In New York City, where these practices have been adopted, the prevalence of smoking has declined by a third.

Read next: Watch John Oliver Burn Big Tobacco

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TIME Addiction

This Is Not a Good Reason to Smoke Cigarettes

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But smoking causes weight loss, a new study says

Anyone who’s considered lighting up knows smoking’s skinny-making reputation, and a new study of 80,000 people shows there’s truth to the claim. Researchers found that smokers weighed about 5 pounds less than people who had never smoked, according to new research in the International Journal of Epidemiology. The cause of that lighter weight, the researchers say, is tobacco.

Those findings are a direct contradiction to several observational studies that have linked smoking to just the opposite: higher body weight and BMI. But researchers at Copenhagen University Hospital wanted to look at the link genetically, in a way that wouldn’t be plagued by confounding lifestyle factors that often go along with smoking. They took weight and BMI measurements of 80,342 people, along with blood samples that they analyzed for DNA.

They looked at a genetic variant associated with higher tobacco consumption, close to a gene called CHRNA3—”the smoking craving gene,” says study author Børge G. Nordestgaard, MD, professor at the University of Copenhagen in the department of clinical biochemistry. Smokers with this genotype weighed almost three pounds less than smokers who didn’t inherit this genetic variant. But in people who had never smoked or formerly smoked, there was no link between CHRNA3 and a lower body weight.

“That’s really the proof that smoking causes it,” Nordestgaard says.

That doesn’t mean that smoking will give you a better figure. In the study, smoking only affected total body weight, not body shape or fat distribution.

The weight loss effect may be due to a laundry list of chemicals in cigarettes, the authors say—some studies have found nicotine to suppress appetite and increase resting metabolic rate. “There’s a possibility that many of these chemicals may influence weight in some pathway we don’t know about yet,” Nordestgaard says.

That’s obviously no reason to start—or continue—smoking, the researchers caution. “From what we know so far, the hazards of smoking much overweigh the slight benefit of having a lower body weight,” Nordestgaard says. “But when smokers tell you they won’t stop smoking because they’re afraid of gaining weight, I think it’s important to know that this is real—so we can try at the same time to help them quit smoking and keep a lower body weight.”

Read next: What Diet Soda Does to Belly Fat

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TIME Addiction

WHO Global Tobacco-Use Reduction Target Likely Up in Smoke, Says Study

Man lights up a cigarette with another cigarette outside an office building in Beijing
Jason Lee—Reuters A man lights up a cigarette with another cigarette outside an office building in Beijing, Nov. 25, 2014

China remains the world's largest market for tobacco products

Even as the number of smokers in many countries declines, increasing numbers in Africa and the Mediterranean are taking up the habit, meaning global tobacco-use figures will likely increase slightly over the next decade, according to a new study.

Member states of the World Health Organization (WHO) are aiming to cut worldwide tobacco consumption by 30% from 2010 levels by 2025, but the target may be missed because of smoking’s enduring popularity in low and middle-income nations, reports Agence France-Presse.

The study, published in The Lancet medical journal, projected “an estimated 1.1 billion current tobacco smokers” by 2025, higher than the current number of one billion smokers worldwide.

In time, as many as half of today’s smokers will die as a result of their tobacco use. Currently, there is a tobacco-related death every six seconds, according to the WHO.

TIME Cancer

Taking Medication May Make It Easier to Quit Smoking

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A Pfizer-funded study suggests the anti-smoking drug Chantix could be used to slowly help smokers quit

According to the results of a new trial published in JAMA, an anti-smoking medication may make it easier for smokers who aren’t yet ready to quit to do so later on.

Nearly seven out of every 10 current U.S. adult cigarette smokers want to quit completely, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But some smokers who aren’t yet ready to quit for good want to lower their consumption and increase their chances for success at kicking the habit down the line. That’s possible with the help of a drug called varenicline, which is sold under the trade name Chantix and is manufactured by Pfizer, finds the new study, which was also funded by Pfizer.

The researchers conducted a two-year trial with 1,510 cigarette smokers who weren’t willing to quit within the next month, but who were willing to try to quit within the following three months. The men and women were split into two groups: some received Chantix, and others received a placebo for 24 weeks. The goal for all the volunteers was to reduce smoking by at least 50% by week four, and then continue to ease up on the habit until a quit attempt at week 12.

The volunteers who were taking Chantix were significantly more successful at quitting by the end of the study compared to the people on the placebo, and the effect stuck at one year.

Developing smoking cessation strategies that allow smokers to quit gradually could attract many more smokers to the method, a Pfizer spokesperson said in an e-mail.

Chantix is not without side effects and controversy. Some data has suggested the drug is linked to serious psychiatric side effects and heart problems.

The authors disclose several conflicts of interest, including the fact that Chantix manufacturer Pfizer was involved in the design, data collection and analysis of the study, and many of the study authors received fees or grants from Pfizer. However, the findings highlight a new potential strategy for curbing smoking and possibly allowing more people to be successful. According to the American Cancer Society, only around 4% to 7% of people are able to quit smoking without medication or other means, and about 25% are able to quit smoking for over six months with the help of medicine.

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