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Study: Smoking May be Linked to More Deaths than Previously Thought

SmokingSmoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States. Reports suggest that out of the 2.4 million deaths that occur in the U.S. annually, about 480,000 are directly caused by smoking. A new study led by American Cancer Society researchers reports that this estimate is too low and that the number of people who die due to smoking-related issues could actually be around 540,000. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Cigarette use increases the risk for several diseases such as cancer, heart diseases, chronic respiratory diseases and causes premature death. It also raises risk of side effects and recurrence of cancer. The new research suggests that smoking may be linked to more diseases that were not established as caused by smoking by the U.S. Surgeon General, leading to underestimation of the number of deaths due to tobacco use.

The researchers analyzed and reviewed data from five large studies, including the ACS Cancer Prevention Study-II, the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, the Nurses’ Health Study, and the National Institutes of Health AARP Diet and Health Study. The data was complied by following one million Americans aged 55 and above for more than 10 years. During this period, about 180,000 deaths, including nearly 16,500 among current smokers were reported.

The key findings of the study are as follows:

  • The death rate among current smokers was three times higher than among those who never smoked.
  • Most of the excess deaths in smokers were due to other diseases known to be related to tobacco use such as certain types of cancers, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), stroke, coronary heart disease and pneumonia including influenza.
  • About 17% of the excess deaths among smokers were due to diseases such as breast cancer, prostate cancer, and other cancers which were not classed as caused by smoking by the U.S. Surgeon General and hence excluded from the official estimates of deaths due to tobacco use. The risk of death from each of these diseases fell on smoking cessation.
  • Cigarette use doubled the risk of death from several causes, including kidney failure, intestinal diseases, hypertensive heart disease, infections, and respiratory diseases other than COPD.

The study only covered data on one million people who participated in large studies. The lead researcher said that if similar results are established nationwide, cigarette smoking could be responsible for 60,000 more deaths in the U.S. than previously estimated. The study concludes that if further research can establish that the excess deaths could be caused by diseases not formally classified as being caused by smoking, these conditions should be included when compiling estimates of deaths from tobacco use.

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