Surgeon general says a whiff of cigarette smoke can hurt you

Posted: 12/9/2010

From Chicago Tribune:

Any exposure to tobacco smoke can cause immediate damage to your body, according to a report set to be released Thursday by the U.S. surgeon general.

Coming out 46 years after the groundbreaking surgeon general's report that first alerted the public to the dangers of smoking, the new study focuses on the changes that tobacco smoke causes to the body -- not just of smokers, but also those who breathe secondhand smoke.

"There is no safe level of exposure to cigarette smoke," Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said. "The chemicals in tobacco smoke reach your lungs quickly every time you inhale, causing damage immediately. Inhaling even the smallest amount of tobacco smoke can also damage your DNA, which can lead to cancer."

One finding: Tobacco smoke leads to inflammation and injury of tissues throughout the body and, experts say, that leads to many diseases.

"Having a state of chronic inflammation not only increases your risks of heart attacks and strokes, but it's also implicated in cancer and pulmonary disease," said Dr. Stanton Glantz, a cardiologist and director of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at UC San Francisco.

The report also finds that, though quitting smoking can reduce your risk of heart attacks and strokes, cutting back doesn't have much of an effect.

"If you're a light active smoker, that's almost as bad as being a heavy active smoker," Glantz said. "That's because of the inflammatory processes occur at very, very low doses."

The report, which gathered research from scientists around the country, comes to six conclusions:

- There is no risk-free level of exposure to tobacco smoke. Even brief exposure to secondhand smoke can cause cardiovascular disease and could trigger acute cardiac events, such as heart attack.

- Inhaling the complex mixture of compounds in tobacco smoke can cause cancer, cardiovascular disease and lung disease because of damage to the body's DNA. Massive amounts of free radicals in cigarette smoke cause inflammation and oxidative stress, damaging cells, tissues and organs.

- How likely it is that you'll get a smoking-related disease -- and how severe the disease will be -- is directly related to how long you smoke and your level of exposure to tobacco smoke.

- Tobacco products are powerfully addictive, because of the many types of nicotine receptors in the brain and the complex ways that other chemicals react with nicotine.

- Even low levels of exposure to smoking or secondhand smoke can damage and inflame the lining of blood vessels, which contributes to blood clots, heart attacks and strokes.

- There isn't enough evidence to prove that changing cigarette designs to lower the emissions of certain toxic ingredients will reduce the risk of major disease to smokers.

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