WASHINGTON — A new report from the Surgeon General details how cigarette smoke damages nearly every organ system in the body and provides doctors with a fresh message for their patients: Explain the specific ravages of smoking, rather than a more general "Smoking kills" message.
The 700-page report, "How Tobacco Smoke Causes Disease: The Biology and Behavioral Basis for Smoking-Attributable Diseases," reads like a text book and details how smoking effects the reproductive, cardiovascular and pulmonary systems.
Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin joined Health and Humans Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius and assistant secretary Dr. Howard Koh to unveil the report at the National Press Club Thursday morning.
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Previous smoking reports from the Institute of Medicine have explained that tobacco smoke causes diseases, but the new report, which is intended for a scientific audience, details exactly how that happens.
"We have known that smoking causes a lot of diseases and cancer," Benjamin said. "I believe it's very important that every smoker understands what happens to their body."
Sebelius and Koh stressed that there is absolutely no "safe" level of cigarette smoke exposure. Even one cigarette causes real biologic changes in the body.
"We didn't know the fact that when you inhale one cigarette, it affects the lining of blood vessels," Sebelius said. "One cigarette, or the exposure to secondhand smoke may cause a heart attack. We didn't know that, and we didn't know how that happened."
Even secondhand smoke can set the wheels in motion for acute cardiovascular events and thrombosis, the report said.
The report also concludes that there isn't enough evidence that filtered, "light" cigarettes, or "low tar" versions are any less harmful than the cigarettes that were around five decades ago. In fact, design modifications may have undermined quit smoking efforts because people mistakenly think a newer cigarette is healthier than an older one, the report concluded.
The AHA said the report "sheds new light on the damaging effects of tobacco use on the health of all Americans."
Tobacco Products are "Lethal Weapons"
"This comprehensive scientific report shows that even brief exposure to tobacco smoke can trigger acute cardiac events and potential sudden death," said AHA CEO Nancy Brown in a statement. "The evidence clearly states that tobacco products are lethal weapons capable of shortening the lifespan of smokers and nonsmokers alike."
John R. Seffrin, CEO of the American Cancer Society Action Network, said the report makes it clear that there is no such thing as a "safe cigarette" or a safe level of secondhand smoke exposure.