Smoking May Be Even Riskier Than Once Thought

Smoking tied to diseases like hypertensive heart disease, kidney disease and intestinal ischemia

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Smokers, it’s never too late to quit — and there may now be even more good reasons to do so.

There’s plenty of research linking smoking to deaths from lung cancer and heart disease. But new research from an American Cancer Society (ACS) study, however, found that smoking may be behind many more diseases than once thought. Among these were breast cancer, kidney failure and prostate cancer.

"Smokers are prone to more than just emphysema and lung cancer. Atherosclerotic blockages that lead to heart attacks and strokes are also accelerated in smokers," said David Winter, MD, MSc, MACP, Chief Clinical Officer, President and Chairman of the Board of HealthTexas Provider Network (HTPN), a division of Baylor Health Care System.

"This new article links additional health problems: kidney failure, intestinal blockages, infections, breast cancer and prostate cancer," Dr. Winter told dailyRx News. "We know that smokers have 2-3 times the mortality of non-smokers and on average die 10 years earlier than non-smokers. Smokers need to be aware of the mounting evidence as to the negative consequences of smoking."

Tobacco contains many harmful substances. Ingredients other than tobacco like flavorings and preservatives are often added during processing, according to the ACS.

At least 70 of the more than 7,000 chemicals in tobacco can cause cancer, according to the ACS. Chemicals in tobacco smoke include cyanide, formaldehyde and ammonia.

Past research from the ACS found that many deaths from 21 types of cancer, six kinds of heart disease and diabetes were all caused by smoking. The current study used the same data as the past research.

In this study, however, the research team, led by Brian D. Carter, MPH, of the ACS, studied 52 cause-of-death categories. The final study population included more than 420,000 men and more than 530,000 women aged 55 or older.

Almost 89,000 people in this study were smokers. Carter and team categorized the patients as current smokers, past smokers and never-smokers.

Carter and colleagues found that smokers were more likely to die from each of the 52 causes than never-smokers. When these researchers looked at deaths among study patients from 2000 to 2011, they found that smokers were more than twice as likely to die from infections than never-smokers.

Smokers were also nearly twice as likely to die from kidney disease and hypertensive heart disease than never-smokers. Hypertensive heart disease occurs when high blood pressure causes heart failure.

Smokers were almost twice as likely as never-smokers to die from respiratory problems not previously linked to tobacco.

When it came to intestinal ischemia, smokers were six times more likely to die from this disease than never-smokers. Intestinal ischemia — a relatively rare condition — occurs when the intestines cannot get adequate circulation or oxygen, causing the intestinal tissue to die.

Carter and team also found that, the more people smoked, the higher their risks of developing infections, breast cancer and kidney failure.

Carter and colleagues noted that the rate of death from any cause was two to three times higher for smokers than it was for those who had never smoked.

The good news was that when smokers quit, their risks dropped. Each year after quitting, their risks got even lower.

The message to smokers is clear — now is a good time to quit. Smoking cessation programs are available in many communities. Also, doctors can prescribe medications or patches that can help in the process.

This study was published Feb. 12 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The American Cancer Society funded this research. Study author Dr. Cora E. Lewis received grant funding from Novo Nordisk, a global health care company.

Review Date: 
February 12, 2015
Last Updated:
February 16, 2015