You already know that smoking causes lung cancer. But tobacco use can lead to other major health problems, too, experts warn.
“Cigarette smoking is probably the single most harmful thing you can do to your health,” said Jonathan Foulds, a professor of public health sciences and psychiatry at Penn State College of Medicine.
“It’s hard to find a part of the body not affected by it,” Foulds said in a college news release.
Besides its link to lung cancer, smoking is also tied to heart attack, stroke, diabetes and other types of cancers, the news release noted.
As for lung cancer, “if you smoke a pack a day or more, your risk of getting lung cancer isn’t just one-and-a-half or double that of a nonsmoker. It’s 20 times as great,” Foulds said.
Moreover, quitting smoking has a bigger effect on reducing heart attack risk than lowering high blood pressure or cholesterol, Foulds said.
It’s important to tell your doctors if you smoke, Foulds and other experts say.
“You should let your dentist know if you smoke because he or she can take special care to evaluate you for tongue, head and neck cancers,” said Dr. Alexis Reedy-Cooper, a family medicine doctor at Penn State’s Medical Center. “Dentists are often the first to detect those.”
Smokers also endanger others. Children in homes with a smoker are at increased risk for asthma, ear infections and lung infections. Pregnant women who smoke put their unborn child at risk for complications and premature delivery, Foulds pointed out.
“It’s not a question of whether [smokers] should quit — it is critical that they quit,” Foulds said. “Smoking is a risk factor for so many things that it doesn’t make sense to wait.”
Doctors should talk to patients who smoke about the health benefits of quitting, Foulds and Reedy-Cooper said. They can help them quit through methods such as medication and counseling.
The American Cancer Society offers a guide to quitting smoking.