Smoking Continues to be a Main Cause of US Cancer Deaths

While US smoking rates are on the decline, new data released by the American Cancer Society shows smoking is still taking a huge toll on American life expectancy and the economy. 

While recent the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports have indicated that U.S. adult smoking rates have dropped from over 33% in 1980, to an all time low of just over 12% in 2020, new research conducted by the American Cancer Society and published in the International Journal of Cancer, found that in 2019 nearly 123,000 U.S. cancer deaths were caused by smoking, amounting to almost 30% of all cancer deaths that year.
“Our study provides further evidence that smoking continues to be a leading cause of cancer-related death and to have a huge impact on the economy across the U.S.”, said Farhad Islami, lead study author and senior scientific director of cancer disparity research at the American Cancer Society. “We must continue to help individuals to quit using tobacco, prevent anyone from starting, and work with elected officials at all levels of government for broad and equitable implementation of proven tobacco control interventions,” he added.

Age of initiation and quitting matters
Another recent study conducted by the American Cancer Society highlighted that while quitting smoking reduces cancer risks at any age, doing so before the age of 45 nearly eliminates all risk. Titled, “Association of Smoking Initiation and Cessation Across the Life Course and Cancer Mortality Prospective Study of 410 000 US Adults,” the study of over 400,000 Americans, found that smokers are three times more likely to die of a tobacco-related cancer than nonsmokers.

However, reported the researchers, quitting by age 45 reduces this risk by 89%, while for those who quit before they are 35, the risk is completely eliminated. On the other hand, quitting between ages 45-54 still reduces the risk by a significant 78%, while doing so between ages 55-64 cuts it by 56%.

The research team found that similarly, the age of smoking initiation also has an impact on cancer risk. People who started smoking before age 18 had at least three times the risk of dying from cancer, while those who started before age 10 had four times the risk.

A new study published today in JAMA Network Open reiterated how significant the burden from smoking is on human health. The study titled, “Evaluation of Cancer Deaths Attributable to Tobacco in California, 2014-2019,” collected data from the California Cancer Registry, about people diagnosed with one of 12 tobacco-related cancers from 2014-2019 in California.

The research team found that the number of Californians whose cancer deaths were caused by smoking tobacco was close to half of all cancer deaths in over two years between 2017-2019, totaling 93,764 Californians. “This is almost double what was previously estimated in a study that looked at 2014 data,” said lead study author and California Cancer Registry researcher Frances Maguire.

Larger declines in smoke-related deaths amongst women
Meanwhile, the data indicated that from 2014-2016 to 2017-2019, there was a decline in smoke-related deaths, from 48% to 45%, with larger declines for women compared with men. This equates to a total drop in smoke related cancer deaths of approximately 10%.

Infact, other recent data released from a statewide survey found that youth use of tobacco and vaping products are at record lows. The California Healthy Kids Survey (CHKS), reported that in 2021, only 1% of 7th and 9th graders and 2% of 11th graders reported smoking, which is defined as having smoked a cigarette on “one or more days” in the 30 days prior to the survey.

The compiled data indicated that since 2015, smoking has declined by 50% among 7th graders, 75% among 9th graders, and 71.4% among 11th graders. Vaping rates have also declined. The survey found that vaping rates peaked in 2015 with 7% of 7th graders, 13% of 9th graders, and 14% of 11th graders reporting having vaped in the 30 days prior to the survey. While in 2021, the rates reached an all time low with only 2% of 7th graders, 6% of 9th graders, and 10% of 11th graders reported current e-cigarette use.

Could vapour have the same effect as air pollution?
Meanwhile, scientists from The Francis Crick Institute have said they fear that vape aerosol could cause cancer in a way similar to air pollution. They explained that air pollution and irritants could trigger inflammation via a process of healing that “wakes up” dormant cells. These cells, explained the scientists, carry mutations that could cause cancer, and the concern is that vaping may have the same effect.

Dr William Hill from the institute said that reducing inflammation by decreasing exposure to pollutants could go a long way to reduce cancer risk. While Professor Charles Swanton, also from Crick Institute and chief clinician of Cancer Research UK, reiterated that vaping is “almost certainly” safer than smoking. He added that however the long term effects of vaping are still unknown and therefore while considered safer, it shouldn’t be considered fully safe.

On the other hand, a 2018 peer-reviewed study, had compared e-liquid vapour to cigarette smoke, indicating that exhaled e-liquid vapour product particles are actually liquid droplets that evaporate within seconds. In line with what previous air samples had suggested, this study had indicated that vaping probably has a minimal impact on indoor air quality.