Report links smoking with rheumatoid arthritis, other diseases

By Melissa Landon
Kentucky Health News

Smoking is even more harmful than previously thought. It not only can cause lung cancer but also rheumatoid arthritis and a long list of other diseases, according to The Health Consequences of Smoking—50 Years of Progress, a report of the surgeon general. Kentucky leads the nation in the habit, with 28.3 percent of adults smoking.

Since 1964, more than 20 million Americans have perished from smoking-related illnesses. Although most of the deaths were deliberate smokers, 2.5 million were nonsmokers who are believed to have died from exposure to secondhand smoke. “The burden of death and disease from tobacco use in the United States is overwhelmingly caused by cigarettes and other combusted tobacco products; rapid elimination of their use will dramatically reduce this burden,” the report says.

The report provides supporting evidence that smoking often causes people to die early. Besides respiratory disease, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes, new information gathered for this study reveals that smoking can also cause reproductive effects, such as ectopic pregnancy; eye disease, such as age-related macular degeneration; and immune and autoimmune disorders such a rheumatoid arthritis.

Because smoking weakens the immune system and causes systemic inflammation, it can not only cause RA but also impede treatment of it. RA is a chronic disease that involves inflammation of the joints and sometimes other parts of the body, according to WebMD. The report also found that women who smoke are just as likely as men to die from smoking-related illnesses—including lung cancer.

Though smoking has become less common since 1964, the costs associated with it are still high. The cost every year for direct medical care needed to treat smoking-related issues is $130 billion annually, and the cost for loss of productivity resulting from premature deaths are greater than $150 billion.

Regardless of constant warnings about the harmfulness of smoking, almost 42 million adults and over 3.5 million middle- and high-school children still smoke. “Each year for every adult who dies prematurely from a smoking-related cause, more than two youth or young adults become replacement smokers,” the report says. Advertisements and marketing influence young people to begin smoking at a young age—88 percent begin before age 18—then the addiction to nicotine makes them continue.

The report suggests the following five measures for fighting the smoking battle in our society: raising the price of cigarettes and tobacco products, forming media campaigns, providing access to cessation treatments and funding statewide tobacco control programs.

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