It is now generally accepted that tobacco smoking is directly responsible for more than 80% of lung cancer cases. Smoking is also a major contributor to emphysema, chronic bronchitis, coronary heart disease and stroke, as well as respiratory tract infections in children exposed to second-hand smoke.
Mothers who smoke have a higher incidence of poor birth outcomes, including low birth weight babies. Second-hand smoke is also known to contribute to respiratory illnesses and even lung cancer in those who have never used tobacco.
With all these facts, it is hard to understand why anyone would continue to use tobacco. The answer is nicotine. Nicotine has been proven to be addictive in human and animal studies. A person who uses tobacco can become addicted very rapidly and find it extremely difficult to quit. Nicotine, upon entering the bloodstream, will affect brain activity, muscle relaxation, and cardiovascular and hormonal responses. While it is not the direct cause of illness, it is the “hook” which keeps the user exposed to tobacco.
Tobacco smoke harms everyone exposed, whether smoker or second-hand victim. The effects of smoking are massive, killing more people each year than fires, murders, suicides, AIDS, alcohol and drugs combined.
For many years, cigarette companies denied that smoking was a health hazard or addictive. The product was aggressively marketed, especially to young people, and the under-18 age group is still one of the largest user groups. Information produced in the last few years shows that the companies did know that nicotine was addictive, and that some companies even added extra levels of nicotine artificially to their product.
Litigation with cigarette companies was unsuccessful until 1996, when several states filed suit against a company, which agreed to a settlement. More litigation has since taken place with some success, and even more is expected.