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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.
  • There are some 4.2 million Canadians 15+ and older who smoke.
  • Cigarette smoking causes about 30% of cancer deaths in Canada and 85% of lung cancers.
  • Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death for men and women in Canada.
  • About 3.9% of Canadian children 0-17 years 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

  • More than one-quarter of all cancer deaths (27%) in Canada are due to lung cancer.
  • A decline in smoking rates among men to 20% from a high of 61% in 1961 has led to an overall drop in lung cancer deaths Canada-wide.
  • Among women, lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer deaths because smoking rates peaked later than men and significant declines didn't occur until the 1980s.
  • Smoking rates for women now sit at 14%.

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 the risk of lung cancer is increased.

Other types of tobacco products such as 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. No amount of exposure to secondhand smoke is safe.

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 the smoke in the air from the use of lit tobacco products.

A single cigarette burns for about 12 minutes, but someone smoking usually only inhales for 30 seconds. As a result, smokers and non-smokers alike are breathing in secondhand smoke in the form of:

  • 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 five 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. It has been termed third-hand smoke. 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. Check this link to learn more about thirdhand smoke.

Health Risks of Secondhand Smoke

Secondhand smoke is a main risk factor for lung cancer among non-smokers. Health Canada estimates that more than 800 non-smokers die from secondhand smoke each year.

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, 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.

Source: Canadian Cancer Society

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Page Last Modified: Friday, 30 October 2015.