We all know that smoking is bad for us, but a new report from the U.S. Surgeon General concludes that even a single cigarette can cause immediate harm and raise the risk of diseases like cancer and heart disease.
That means that you don’t have to be a heavy smoker to suffer the effects of tobacco use. The report finds that any exposure to smoking — a single drag of a cigarette, occasional smoking or secondary exposure to cigarette smoke — can damage the body’s cells, tissue and DNA, raising the risk of cancer. (More on Time.com: Gallery: Cigarette Warning Labels From Around the World)
“Low levels of smoke exposure, including exposures to secondhand tobacco smoke, lead to a rapid and sharp increase in dysfunction and inflammation of the lining of the blood vessels, which are implicated in heart attacks and stroke,” said the report, released on Dec. 9 by Surgeon General Regina Benjamin. “The chemicals in tobacco smoke reach your lungs quickly every time you inhale. Your blood then carries the toxicants to every organ in your body.”
More than 7,000 chemicals and compounds are contained in each cigarette, 1% of which are known carcinogens. The Surgeon General’s report further notes that cigarette manufacturers have recently changed the design and ingredients in cigarettes to deliver toxic ingredients more effectively and make smoking more addictive. USA Today reports that changes include:
•Ammonia added to tobacco, which converts nicotine into a form that gets to the brain faster
•Filter holes that allow people to inhale smoke more deeply into the lungs
•Sugar and “moisture enhancers” to reduce the burning sensation of smoking, making it more pleasant, especially for new cigarette users
The report also finds that the presumably safer or lower-impact cigarettes that manufacturers have marketed are actually just as dangerous as any other cigarette. “The evidence indicates that changing cigarette designs over the last five decades, including filtered, low-tar, and ‘light’ variations, have NOT reduced overall disease risk among smokers and may have hindered prevention and cessation efforts,” the report reads. (More on Time.com: Study: Moms Who Smoke During Pregnancy Might Have Criminal Kids)
It’s no wonder that 443,000 Americans die of smoking-related disease each year. These deaths make up 20% of all deaths in the U.S. and cost the nation $193 billion per year in health-care costs and lost productivity. Currently, 23% of U.S. adults and 17% of teenagers smoke, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
To read the Surgeon General’s full report, click here.