Smoking is more deadly than it used to be

scull face holding a cigarette
CC BY 2.0 Taymaz Valley

Smoking today is even more deadly than it was half a century ago, according to the most recent report on smoking from the U.S. Surgeon General. Roughly 43 million adults in the U.S. smoke, or 18 percent of the population.

Although the percentage of Americans who smoke is at an all-time low, the health risks for those who smoke is worse than in the past. The report finds that "the evidence is sufficient to infer that the relative risk of dying from cigarette smoking has increased over the last 50 years."

In other words, smoking today makes you more likely to die early than it did for someone smoking in the 1950s or 1960s. Men who smoked in 1959 were about three times more likely to get lung cancer than men who never smoked. Today, men who smoke are 26 times more likely than their non-smoking peers. In 1959, female smokers were 12 times more likely to suffer from lung cancer than women who had never smoked. Today, women who smoke are 25 times more likely to get cancer.

Changes in the composition of cigarettes may have contributed to this change, but it's difficult to determine the cause. "Beyond causing specific diseases and a wide range of other adverse health effects, smoking is also associated with generally poorer health, when smokers are compared with nonsmokers," the report says.

"However, the pattern of changes in risk and death rates in other diseases caused by smoking make it difficult to sort out what specific aspects of smoking are most responsible for increased risk of dying prematurely due to smoking," Centers for Disease Control spokesman Joel London told NPR.

Smoking also causes more diseases than previously known. The report says that tuberculosis, diabetes, ectopic pregnancy, erectile dysfunction and rheumatoid arthritis have all been causally linked to smoking. The report also explores a number of potential ways to further reduce the percentage of Americans who smoke.

Smoking is more deadly than it used to be
New CDC report shows that fewer Americans smoke, but those who do face higher risks.