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Smoking is the most important single preventable cause of illness and premature death in North America. In the United States alone, more than 500,000 deaths are attributed to tobacco use each year. This exceeds the total number of American lives lost in all of the wars fought since the country was founded. In 1962 the Royal College of Physicians of London had released a significant study, which concluded: “Cigarette smoking is a cause of lung cancer and bronchitis and various other diseases.” Cigarette smoking and second hand smoke can cause many different diseases and complications. Another major issue is underage smokers, and the fact that smoking is easy to start and hard to quit. The only sure way to never get hooked or fall into this trap is to never start smoking.

Smoking can cause numerous diseases, such as lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and coronary heart disease. These three are the major causes of death for smokers. It also causes cancer of the lip and mouth, emphysema, cancer of the larynx, oral cavity and esophagus; about one third of all cancers of the bladder, kidney, and pancreas are attributed to smoking as well.

Lung cancer has become the leading killer among cancers in the United States. More than eight of every ten cases of lung cancer are caused by smoking, and nine out of every ten victims die within five years.

Emphysema is a progressive respiratory disease characterized by coughing, shortness of breath, and wheezing, developing into extreme difficulty in breathing, and sometimes resulting in disability and death. In recent years, emphysema has become a serious public health problem.

Second hand smoke is also a serious problem. It contributes to thousands of cases of lung cancer and heart disease in nonsmokers. More than one hundred studies say second hand smoke can increase risks for multiple health problems. It causes burning, itching, and tearing of eyes, headaches, sore throats, coughs, and hoarseness. Infants under age one whose mothers smoke have twice as many lung infections as infants of nonsmoking mothers. Three studies published in 1981 have suggested that nonsmoking wives of smoking husbands experience an increased risk of lung cancer, and other studies have found increased illness in nonsmoking children of smoking parents. It’s estimated that from 37,000 to 40,000 people die from heart and blood vessel disease caused by other people’s smoke each year.

Underage smoking has also become a major problem recently. The Federal Office on Smoking and Health estimates that 3,000 young people begin smoking every day. The Department of Health and Human Services estimates the ninety percent begin tobacco use before age twenty; fifty percent of smokers begin tobacco use by age fourteen; and twenty-five percent begin their smoking addiction by age twelve (the sixth grade). Many young people begin smoking as an act of rebellion and independence. Many things have been done to try to prevent tobacco use by children and youth. The National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids is an independent, inclusive organization that works to prevent tobacco use by youth. The Center works in partnership with the American Cancer Society, American Heart Association, American Medical Association, The National Parent Teachers Association, American Lung Association, and one hundred other health, civic, corporate, youth, and religious organizations.

Many people will agree that smoking is easy to start and hard to quit. Many smokers needed several attempts at quitting before successfully quitting. More than 30 million people in the United States say they would like to quit smoking, but cannot. One hypothesis to explain this problem is that the smoker craves the effect of the nicotine in the smoke.

Many programs exist to help smokers quit. Some involve support groups, where some use aversive techniques in which the participant smokes many cigarettes rapidly to the point of becoming sick of them. There are many other ways to help people to stop smoking.

To never have smoked tobacco means that a person will probably miss out on all of these “wonderful” experiences. He will not get emphysema, lung cancer, or heart disease, and he will not have to worry about the hard process of trying to quit. Underage smokers will still be an issue, and so will second hand smoke, but he could be part of the solution instead of part of the problem.

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