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The Facts - Tobacco, Lung Cancer, and Secondhand Smoke

Tobacco Facts

  • Smoking is the No. 1 preventable cause of death in Canada.
  • Smoking kills more than 37,000 Canadians each year – six times more than vehicle collisions, suicides, murders and AIDS combined.
  • Tobacco use is also linked to cancer of the bladder, kidney, pancreas, cervix, mouth, throat, esophagus, larynx, stomach, colon, rectum and breast.
  • More than 5 million Canadians are smokers.
  • Cigarette smoking causes about 30% of cancers in Canada and more than 85% of lung cancers.
  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women in Canada.
  • About 15% of Canadian children are exposed to secondhand smoke at home.

What You Are Inhaling

Cigarettes contain more than 4,000 chemicals, 69 of which can cause cancer. With every cigarette, a person inhales:

  • Tar
  • Mercury
  • Lead
  • Carbon monoxide
  • Ddt (an insecticide)
  • Acetone (nail polish remover)
  • Arsenic (white ant poison)
  • Hydrogen cyanide (poisonous gas)

Lung Cancer

Canadawide Statistics

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death from cancer for both men and women. It is also the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in Canada (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers).

It is estimated that in 2013:

  • 25,500 Canadians will be diagnosed with lung cancer.
  • 20,200 Canadians will die from lunch cancer.

Ontario Statistics

Lung cancer is the leading cause of death for both men and women in Ontario.

It is estimated that in 2013:

  • 4,400 men will be diagnosed with lung cancer.
  • 3.600 men will die of lung cancer.
  • 4,200 women will be diagnosed with lung cancer.
  • 3,300 women will die of lung cancer.

Risk Factors

Smoking is related to more than 85% of lung cancer cases in Canada. The risk of developing lung cancer is influenced by how long a person smokes, their age when they started smoking, and the number of cigarettes smoked each day. When smoking is combined with other risk factors (for example; working with asbestos, arsenic, nickel, petroleum, and exposure to the radon gas) the risk of lung cancer is increased.

Other types of tobacco products such as low-tar and low-nicotine cigarettes, pipes, cigars, herbal cigarettes, hookahs, and chewing tobacco also cause cancer and are not considered safe.

Non-smokers are also at increased risk for lung cancer if they are exposed to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is a main risk factor for lung cancer among non-smokers.

Signs and Symptoms

Having the following signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean someone has lung cancer. Most smokers experience these symptoms from time to time, so it’s important to see a doctor to be sure.

Some signs and symptoms include:

  • Cough or a change in your existing cough
  • Coughing up blood (hemoptysis)
  • Constant tiredness
  • General discomfort
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Pain in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Hoarseness
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Pneumonia

Secondhand Smoke

What is Secondhand Smoke?

Secondhand smoke is even more dangerous than directly inhaled smoke. Cigarettes burn for approximately 12 minutes, but smokers usually only inhale for 30 seconds. As a result, smokers and non-smokers alike are breathing in:

  • Mainstream smoke – the smoke first inhaled by the smoker and then exhaled.
  • Sidestream smoke – the smoke that goes into the air from the end of a burning cigarette. It contains twice the nicotine and tar than mainstream smoke and 5 times the carbon monoxide.
  • There is also evidence that the residual chemicals left from burning tobacco remains on surfaces such as furniture, walls, pillows, toys, and anything that is in the area where smoking is taking place. There is evidence that it is hazardous to health. This is especially true for young children who often crawl and put things in their mouths that have been exposed to tobacco smoke. Learn more about third-hand smoke.

Health Risks of Secondhand Smoke

A non-smoker exposed to secondhand smoke has a 25% increased chance of developing lung cancer. Health Canada estimates that more than 300 non-smokers die from lung cancer each year because of such exposure.

Health risks of secondhand smoke include:

  • Cancer (of the lungs, sinuses, brain, breast, uterus, cervix, thyroid, as well as leukemia and lymphoma)
  • Heart disease and stroke
  • The aggravation of asthma, allergies and angina
  • Reduced ability to take in and use oxygen
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure
  • Eye irritation, headache, nasal discomfort, sneezing, coughing, sore throat, nausea and dizziness

Secondhand Smoke and Children

Children are mainly exposed to secondhand smoke at home and in the car. Infants and children breathe in more secondhand smoke than adults because they have higher respiratory rates.

Secondhand smoke among children can lead to:

  • An increased risk of developing cancer and heart disease as an adult
  • Impaired lung function
  • Middle ear infections
  • Food allergies
  • An increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Chronic respiratory illness, such as asthma
  • A possible negative impact on behaviour, attention and cognition

Health Risks on Unborn Children

  • Nicotine speeds up the heartbeat of the fetus and can slow down the growth of the baby’s lungs and breathing passages.
  • Carbon monoxide can reduce the oxygen supply to the fetus by 25%, which can lead to lower birth weights.

Smoking and Other Cancers

In addition to lung cancer, smoking is a contributing factor for the development of cancer of the throat, mouth, larynx, esophagus, stomach, bladder, kidney, cervix and pancreas.

Smoking and Colorectal Cancer

Some studies have found that the cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco smoke may cause tumours in the colon and rectum. The heavier and longer a person smokes, the greater the risk.

Smoking and Breast Cancer

Researchers are still studying the possible connection between breast cancer and smoking.

Recent studies provide evidence suggesting a link between breast cancer risk and both active and passive (secondhand) smoking, particularly for pre-menopausal breast cancer.

Source: Canadian Cancer Society

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Page Last Modified: Tuesday, 06 January 2015.