Smoking and Tobacco Myths

Reviewed Nov 1, 2017

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Summary

  • False beliefs about smoking and tobacco use are barriers to quitting.
  • The truth about “light” cigarettes, secondhand smoke, NRT, and smokeless tobacco are revealed here.

Everybody knows that cigarettes are harmful. Yet, many widely-held beliefs about smoking and tobacco use are simply not true. This article sets the facts straight on many false beliefs that keep people from quitting.

Myth: Light cigarettes are less harmful.

Until June 2010, tobacco companies could sell cigarettes labeled light, low-tar, mild, and ultra light. When tested by smoking machines, the smoke from these products had lower levels of cancer-causing tar than regular cigarettes. But smoking machines are misleading. Studies showed that people who smoke light cigarettes can be exposed to just as much tar as regular cigarettes by smoking more often, inhaling more deeply, or blocking filter air holes. Today, the law bans tobacco companies from using these terms. Companies have not changed the design or color-coding of their packages. Consumers may wrongly believe that some cigarettes are less harmful than others.

Myth: I am only hurting myself when I smoke.

Secondhand smoke causes illness and death in others. A 2006 report of the U.S. Surgeon General says that “nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.” Babies exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Exposure to secondhand smoke can set off asthma attacks in children and adults with asthma. Residue from tobacco smoke that clings to indoor surfaces is called third hand smoke. This is relatively new, and its potential dangers are not yet known.

Myth: Smoking just a few cigarettes a day won’t hurt me.

It is true that people who smoke moderate to heavy have a greater chance of getting lung cancer and lung disease than people who smoke less. But smoking just a few cigarettes a day also puts you at risk for these diseases and raises your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Smoking leads to the buildup of plaque on artery walls and harms arteries. It also increases blood pressure and risk of blood clots. Pregnant women who smoke as few as five cigarettes a day are more likely to have low-birth weight babies. Low-birth weight babies are at high risk for serious health problems as newborns, including death.

Myth: I’ve smoked for a long time. Quitting won’t help me now.

No matter how old you are or how long you have smoked, quitting will improve your health and your life expectancy. Think about these benefits. Within one year after quitting, your risk of heart disease is half of what it was when you were smoking. Within five years, your chance of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. Your stroke risk can fall to that of a nonsmoker’s within two to five years. After 10 years, your risk of dying from lung cancer is half that of a continued smoker. After 15 years, your heart disease risk is the same as that of a nonsmoker’s. On the other hand, continuing to smoke increases your risk of illness, disability, losing your freedom, and earlier death.

Myth: Medicines to help people who smoke quit don’t work. Plus, nicotine in nicotine-replacement therapies is harmful.
 
Not true! Using cessation drugs, including nicotine-replacement therapy (NRT), can double your chance of quitting for good. These drugs help lower cravings and symptoms of withdrawal. Although NRT has nicotine, it is relatively safe when used as medicine and is proven effective at helping people quit. Rather than replacing cigarettes with NRT, you use it as a tool to slowly cut back on your body’s desire for nicotine. In time, you won’t need NRT. Keep in mind that mixing counseling with medicine works better at helping people quit than drugs alone. Individual, group, and even phone counseling are all options. Talking with your primary care provider can also be very helpful.

Myth: Cigars and smokeless tobacco are harmless. It is cigarettes that kill.

Cigar smoke is harmful to people who smoke and those who don't. In fact, cigar smoke has more cancer-causing tars than cigarettes. Even if you don’t inhale, using cigars increases your risk of mouth, throat, and other cancers. Heavy cigar smoking is also linked to a higher risk of heart and lung diseases. Like cigars, smokeless forms of tobacco such as chewing tobacco and dip cause cancer and other health problems. And all forms of tobacco contain nicotine, which is addictive. The bottom line is that no form of tobacco is safe.

Resources

Guide To Quitting Smoking. American Cancer Society, 2014. Available at: www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/index

“Cigars”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/tobacco_industry/cigars/

By Christine P. Martin
Source: Frieden TR, Blakeman DE. The dirty dozen: 12 myths that undermine tobacco control. American Journal of Public Health. 2005;95:1500-1505; Low Birthweight. March of Dimes: http://www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/medicalresources_lowbirthweight.html; How Cigarettes Damage Your Body. American Heart Association: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/QuitSmoking/QuittingSmoking/How-Cigarettes-Damage-Your-Body_UCM_322735_Article.jsp; “Light” Cigarettes and Cancer Risk. National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/light-cigarettes; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006; When Smokers Quit, What Are the Benefits Over Time? American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/guide-to-quitting-smoking-benefits. Fiore MC, Jaén CR, Baker TB, et al. Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update. Quick Reference Guide for Clinicians. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. April 2009; Cigar Smoking and Cancer, National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/cigars; Smokeless Tobacco and Cancer. National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/smokeless.
Reviewed by Sherrie Bieniek, MD, Group Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • False beliefs about smoking and tobacco use are barriers to quitting.
  • The truth about “light” cigarettes, secondhand smoke, NRT, and smokeless tobacco are revealed here.

Everybody knows that cigarettes are harmful. Yet, many widely-held beliefs about smoking and tobacco use are simply not true. This article sets the facts straight on many false beliefs that keep people from quitting.

Myth: Light cigarettes are less harmful.

Until June 2010, tobacco companies could sell cigarettes labeled light, low-tar, mild, and ultra light. When tested by smoking machines, the smoke from these products had lower levels of cancer-causing tar than regular cigarettes. But smoking machines are misleading. Studies showed that people who smoke light cigarettes can be exposed to just as much tar as regular cigarettes by smoking more often, inhaling more deeply, or blocking filter air holes. Today, the law bans tobacco companies from using these terms. Companies have not changed the design or color-coding of their packages. Consumers may wrongly believe that some cigarettes are less harmful than others.

Myth: I am only hurting myself when I smoke.

Secondhand smoke causes illness and death in others. A 2006 report of the U.S. Surgeon General says that “nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.” Babies exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Exposure to secondhand smoke can set off asthma attacks in children and adults with asthma. Residue from tobacco smoke that clings to indoor surfaces is called third hand smoke. This is relatively new, and its potential dangers are not yet known.

Myth: Smoking just a few cigarettes a day won’t hurt me.

It is true that people who smoke moderate to heavy have a greater chance of getting lung cancer and lung disease than people who smoke less. But smoking just a few cigarettes a day also puts you at risk for these diseases and raises your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Smoking leads to the buildup of plaque on artery walls and harms arteries. It also increases blood pressure and risk of blood clots. Pregnant women who smoke as few as five cigarettes a day are more likely to have low-birth weight babies. Low-birth weight babies are at high risk for serious health problems as newborns, including death.

Myth: I’ve smoked for a long time. Quitting won’t help me now.

No matter how old you are or how long you have smoked, quitting will improve your health and your life expectancy. Think about these benefits. Within one year after quitting, your risk of heart disease is half of what it was when you were smoking. Within five years, your chance of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. Your stroke risk can fall to that of a nonsmoker’s within two to five years. After 10 years, your risk of dying from lung cancer is half that of a continued smoker. After 15 years, your heart disease risk is the same as that of a nonsmoker’s. On the other hand, continuing to smoke increases your risk of illness, disability, losing your freedom, and earlier death.

Myth: Medicines to help people who smoke quit don’t work. Plus, nicotine in nicotine-replacement therapies is harmful.
 
Not true! Using cessation drugs, including nicotine-replacement therapy (NRT), can double your chance of quitting for good. These drugs help lower cravings and symptoms of withdrawal. Although NRT has nicotine, it is relatively safe when used as medicine and is proven effective at helping people quit. Rather than replacing cigarettes with NRT, you use it as a tool to slowly cut back on your body’s desire for nicotine. In time, you won’t need NRT. Keep in mind that mixing counseling with medicine works better at helping people quit than drugs alone. Individual, group, and even phone counseling are all options. Talking with your primary care provider can also be very helpful.

Myth: Cigars and smokeless tobacco are harmless. It is cigarettes that kill.

Cigar smoke is harmful to people who smoke and those who don't. In fact, cigar smoke has more cancer-causing tars than cigarettes. Even if you don’t inhale, using cigars increases your risk of mouth, throat, and other cancers. Heavy cigar smoking is also linked to a higher risk of heart and lung diseases. Like cigars, smokeless forms of tobacco such as chewing tobacco and dip cause cancer and other health problems. And all forms of tobacco contain nicotine, which is addictive. The bottom line is that no form of tobacco is safe.

Resources

Guide To Quitting Smoking. American Cancer Society, 2014. Available at: www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/index

“Cigars”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/tobacco_industry/cigars/

By Christine P. Martin
Source: Frieden TR, Blakeman DE. The dirty dozen: 12 myths that undermine tobacco control. American Journal of Public Health. 2005;95:1500-1505; Low Birthweight. March of Dimes: http://www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/medicalresources_lowbirthweight.html; How Cigarettes Damage Your Body. American Heart Association: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/QuitSmoking/QuittingSmoking/How-Cigarettes-Damage-Your-Body_UCM_322735_Article.jsp; “Light” Cigarettes and Cancer Risk. National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/light-cigarettes; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006; When Smokers Quit, What Are the Benefits Over Time? American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/guide-to-quitting-smoking-benefits. Fiore MC, Jaén CR, Baker TB, et al. Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update. Quick Reference Guide for Clinicians. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. April 2009; Cigar Smoking and Cancer, National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/cigars; Smokeless Tobacco and Cancer. National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/smokeless.
Reviewed by Sherrie Bieniek, MD, Group Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • False beliefs about smoking and tobacco use are barriers to quitting.
  • The truth about “light” cigarettes, secondhand smoke, NRT, and smokeless tobacco are revealed here.

Everybody knows that cigarettes are harmful. Yet, many widely-held beliefs about smoking and tobacco use are simply not true. This article sets the facts straight on many false beliefs that keep people from quitting.

Myth: Light cigarettes are less harmful.

Until June 2010, tobacco companies could sell cigarettes labeled light, low-tar, mild, and ultra light. When tested by smoking machines, the smoke from these products had lower levels of cancer-causing tar than regular cigarettes. But smoking machines are misleading. Studies showed that people who smoke light cigarettes can be exposed to just as much tar as regular cigarettes by smoking more often, inhaling more deeply, or blocking filter air holes. Today, the law bans tobacco companies from using these terms. Companies have not changed the design or color-coding of their packages. Consumers may wrongly believe that some cigarettes are less harmful than others.

Myth: I am only hurting myself when I smoke.

Secondhand smoke causes illness and death in others. A 2006 report of the U.S. Surgeon General says that “nonsmokers who are exposed to secondhand smoke at home or work increase their risk of developing heart disease by 25 to 30 percent and lung cancer by 20 to 30 percent.” Babies exposed to secondhand smoke are more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Exposure to secondhand smoke can set off asthma attacks in children and adults with asthma. Residue from tobacco smoke that clings to indoor surfaces is called third hand smoke. This is relatively new, and its potential dangers are not yet known.

Myth: Smoking just a few cigarettes a day won’t hurt me.

It is true that people who smoke moderate to heavy have a greater chance of getting lung cancer and lung disease than people who smoke less. But smoking just a few cigarettes a day also puts you at risk for these diseases and raises your risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Smoking leads to the buildup of plaque on artery walls and harms arteries. It also increases blood pressure and risk of blood clots. Pregnant women who smoke as few as five cigarettes a day are more likely to have low-birth weight babies. Low-birth weight babies are at high risk for serious health problems as newborns, including death.

Myth: I’ve smoked for a long time. Quitting won’t help me now.

No matter how old you are or how long you have smoked, quitting will improve your health and your life expectancy. Think about these benefits. Within one year after quitting, your risk of heart disease is half of what it was when you were smoking. Within five years, your chance of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder are cut in half. Your stroke risk can fall to that of a nonsmoker’s within two to five years. After 10 years, your risk of dying from lung cancer is half that of a continued smoker. After 15 years, your heart disease risk is the same as that of a nonsmoker’s. On the other hand, continuing to smoke increases your risk of illness, disability, losing your freedom, and earlier death.

Myth: Medicines to help people who smoke quit don’t work. Plus, nicotine in nicotine-replacement therapies is harmful.
 
Not true! Using cessation drugs, including nicotine-replacement therapy (NRT), can double your chance of quitting for good. These drugs help lower cravings and symptoms of withdrawal. Although NRT has nicotine, it is relatively safe when used as medicine and is proven effective at helping people quit. Rather than replacing cigarettes with NRT, you use it as a tool to slowly cut back on your body’s desire for nicotine. In time, you won’t need NRT. Keep in mind that mixing counseling with medicine works better at helping people quit than drugs alone. Individual, group, and even phone counseling are all options. Talking with your primary care provider can also be very helpful.

Myth: Cigars and smokeless tobacco are harmless. It is cigarettes that kill.

Cigar smoke is harmful to people who smoke and those who don't. In fact, cigar smoke has more cancer-causing tars than cigarettes. Even if you don’t inhale, using cigars increases your risk of mouth, throat, and other cancers. Heavy cigar smoking is also linked to a higher risk of heart and lung diseases. Like cigars, smokeless forms of tobacco such as chewing tobacco and dip cause cancer and other health problems. And all forms of tobacco contain nicotine, which is addictive. The bottom line is that no form of tobacco is safe.

Resources

Guide To Quitting Smoking. American Cancer Society, 2014. Available at: www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/index

“Cigars”
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/tobacco_industry/cigars/

By Christine P. Martin
Source: Frieden TR, Blakeman DE. The dirty dozen: 12 myths that undermine tobacco control. American Journal of Public Health. 2005;95:1500-1505; Low Birthweight. March of Dimes: http://www.marchofdimes.com/professionals/medicalresources_lowbirthweight.html; How Cigarettes Damage Your Body. American Heart Association: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/QuitSmoking/QuittingSmoking/How-Cigarettes-Damage-Your-Body_UCM_322735_Article.jsp; “Light” Cigarettes and Cancer Risk. National Cancer Institute: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/light-cigarettes; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The Health Consequences of Involuntary Exposure to Tobacco Smoke: A Report of the Surgeon General. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2006; When Smokers Quit, What Are the Benefits Over Time? American Cancer Society, http://www.cancer.org/Healthy/StayAwayfromTobacco/GuidetoQuittingSmoking/guide-to-quitting-smoking-benefits. Fiore MC, Jaén CR, Baker TB, et al. Treating Tobacco Use and Dependence: 2008 Update. Quick Reference Guide for Clinicians. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service. April 2009; Cigar Smoking and Cancer, National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/cigars; Smokeless Tobacco and Cancer. National Cancer Institute, http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Tobacco/smokeless.
Reviewed by Sherrie Bieniek, MD, Group Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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