The U.S. surgeon general has listed 21 deadly diseases that smokers encounter. A new study in this week’s New England Journal of Medicine points out more than a dozen other diseases that apparently add on to tobacco’s death toll.
To draw these conclusions, scientists from the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute and several universities followed nearly one million people for a decade and recorded their causes of death, WBUR reported.
As expected, the researchers found that smokers were much more likely to die of lung cancer, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, esophageal cancer, mouth cancer and a plethora of other diseases that health officials have previously linked to smoking.
Study author Eric Jacobs, strategic director of pharmacoepidemiology at the American Cancer Society, noted other causes of death that were also common in smokers including “things like kidney failure, infections and certain types of heart and respiratory diseases that weren’t previously counted,” he said.
For five of the diseases added to the ever-growing list, smokers were about twice as likely as nonsmokers to die from these ailments. In fact, 83 percent of smokers in the study died from one of them.
While experts at this time are unable to pinpoint why smokers are more vulnerable to these other diseases, they point out cigarette smoke is known to interfere with the body’s immune function.
“So it’s not a trivial increase in risk,” Jacobs says.
This study (which looked specifically at smoking – not the use of snuff or other forms of smokeless tobacco) only points to smoking associations; it wasn’t designed to prove a causal link. It did not delve into why tobacco is damaging. But it’s not hard to imagine a plausible mechanism in the case of the illnesses, Jacob added.
The evidence of a link was leaker for other diseases, such as breast cancer. Smokers in this study were 30 percent more likely to die of breast cancer than nonsmokers, however smokers are also more likely to consume alcohol – and high alcohol intake raises the risk of breast cancer. So scientists are wary to draw a direct link between smoking and breast cancer.