Effects of smoking more widespread than just lung cancer


Elyse Gregory

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cigarette smoking kills more than 480,000 Americans each year, with more than 41,000 of these deaths being from exposure to secondhand smoke.

Smoking is the No. 1 cause of premature death in the U.S., but educating students might decrease that. 

Oncologist Michael J. Kraut led a tobacco prevention lecture on March 16 in the Oakland Center, where a former smoker shared her experience with an ongoing seven-year battle against cancer.

Kraut discussed the causes and effects of tobacco use, starting with nicotine. He defined nicotine as “an organic compound synthesized by the tobacco plant.”

People smoke to feel the pleasurable effect of nicotine in the body.

There are many ways to consume nicotine, including inhalation, nasal inhalation and buccal mucosa — the lining of the cheeks.

Inhalation intake of nicotine is most common through cigarettes and hookahs, while nasal inhalation is through snuff and buccal mucosa intake occurs through cigars, pipes and chewing tobacco.

Another, more recent, nicotine delivery system is the e-cigarette, also known as vaping. Kraut described e-cigarettes as a gateway to smoking, especially for teenagers. 

He said e-cigarettes are safer than smoking tobacco and are a reasonable way to quit, but they have not been around long enough to see if they can cause cancer.

Smoking, however, certainly does.

“You inhale all these cancerous particles, and they get all throughout your lungs, they damage the cells and cause genetic alterations and damage the red genes and turns into cancer,” Kraut said.

Though it will take a long time, smoking is likely to cause cancer.

“If you get it [cancer] right away, nobody would smoke,” he said. “When you’re gonna die 20-45 years later, it doesn’t seem so urgent. Cancer is a disease of the genes. You mutate them. The cell behaves differently.”

About 90 percent of lung cancer cases are smoking-related, but smoking can cause more than just cancer. The health effects are far more widespread than many people consider.

Additional effects include:

  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Peripheral/vascular disease 
  • Birth defects/fetal harm
  • Accidental fires

Other cancers related to smoking:

  • Throat or larynx cancer 
  • Bladder cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Oral and oropharyngeal cancer
  • Stomach cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Kidney cancer
  • Acute leukemia

Kraut explained that tobacco companies target teenagers because the majority of smokers pick up the habit around 14-18 years old. Some control has been gained over the tobacco industry by instituting measures of banning ads, raising taxes on tobacco products and educating children.

“A government that denies climate change is certainly capable of undoing a lot of progress by undermining or eliminating these measures,” Kraut said.

As regulation of smoking is in progress, the Cancer Awareness Society at Oakland University promotes a smoke-free campus.

Joshua Hermiz, a senior studying biological sciences who founded CAS and is its president, said the organization hosts yearly tobacco prevention lectures for students. These lectures are intended to help students “find other methods of stress-relieving techniques, as well as providing individuals with connections to assistance programs.”

Hermiz said it is common for college students to pick up the habit of smoking due to increases in their levels of stress. He said as cravings arise, so do the stress levels.

“When you smoke, stress levels fall again, as the brain receives its dose of nicotine,” he said. “This gives the false impression that smoking reduces stress levels, when in fact, tobacco use causes stress to begin with.”