Tobacco Kills 15 People Every Minute, And Just One Cigarette Has The Potential To Cause Cancer Via Carcinogens Binding To DNA
It may seem obvious that smoking is bad and that using tobacco has the potential to cause cancer, but wherever I turn I see people smoking. It seems that a major fraction of the population has simply ignored the obvious scientific data which shows that smoking is deadly, and The Cancer Herald hopes to shock smokers back into reality by discussing how exactly cigarettes cause cancer and how many people tobacco kills, so that the dangers of smoking are no longer an abstract concept.
The Cancer Herald believes this issue is not discussed enough in the mainstream, likely due to lobbyists from the tobacco industry. In 2017 it was estimated that the tobacco industry was worth $785 billion, not including China. In order to maintain this obscene level of profits, the tobacco industry aims to ensure that tobacco is available at practically every gas station and grocery store in the world, and that people remain addicted by releasing new and ‘exciting’ products which often combine tobacco with menthol to increase addiction potential.
For the record, I smoked cigarettes for years beginning in college, and have even smoked cigarettes once in awhile this year. I have used essentially every type of tobacco product, including chewing tobacco, cigarillos, cigars, and snuff. I am giving this personal information over so that readers who are tobacco users will know that I am basically in the same boat as them, and not some outside observer criticizing smoking without having ever done it. I pray that the explicit facts presented in this article will keep readers away from tobacco for the rest of their lives, as well as myself.
15 People Die From Tobacco Use Every Minute
The World Health Organization (WHO), which is one of the most reputable sources of health related statistics, reports that as of 2019 8 million people die every year due to tobacco. This is equivalent to 15 deaths per minute, 913 deaths per hour, 21,917 deaths per day, and a death once every 4 seconds on average. This basically makes tobacco the leading cause of death on the planet, although when ranking leading causes of death tobacco does not even appear, since people that die from tobacco are categorized into the specific diseases that they died from.
To make matters even worse, the WHO finds that 1.1 million people smoke tobacco globally, which is 14.3% of the entire population of the world. This makes tobacco one of the worst pandemics in human history.
Tobacco Use Is A Disease, How It Works
In the past tobacco use was not considered to be a disease in its own right. However, modern science reveals that tobacco use is undoubtedly a disease. Instead of a virus or bacteria, the disease of tobacco use is fueled by nicotine. Nicotine acts as a receptor agonist at the nicotinic acetylcholine receptors (nAChRs), and this induces the release of dopamine and endogenous opioids, essentially both ‘feel good’ chemicals that are usually only released from eating, accomplishing something, exercise or sex. Also, nicotine causes the release of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which is basically adrenaline and gives people energy, as well as serotonin which is critically important for regulating a person’s mental state.
By ingesting tobacco a person can basically ‘cheat the system’ and feel rewarded even when they have done nothing that would cause their body to feel good. This is essentially the same principle behind all drug addictions, as well as other non-drug addictions.
The excessive release of all of these natural chemicals which regulate a person’s psychology, as well as the existence of nicotine in large concentrations in the brain, essentially throws the body’s carefully regulated balance out of whack. Specifically, the nicotinic receptors cannot handle all the nicotine so they become desensitized to an extent, while simultaneously the body produces new nicotinic receptors to try and achieve balance in a process called upregulation. Likewise, receptors for dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin also go through physical changes.
Essentially, the brain physically changes in response to tobacco use in an attempt to achieve balance in the presence of nicotine. If the nicotine is then removed, the brain is thrown out of balance towards the opposite direction, with a lack of dopamine, adrenaline, and serotonin. This causes depression, headaches, anger, anxiety, irritability, insomnia, extreme hunger, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating.
In-depth information on how nicotine actually physically changes the brain, leading to addiction, can be read in the paper ‘Nicotine-induced Upregulation of Nicotinic Receptors: Underlying Mechanisms and Relevance to Nicotine Addiction‘.
The good news is that the brain can downregulate nicotinic receptors and head back towards normal with weeks of abstinence. However, most smokers feel like they cannot go through the withdrawal since it would interfere too severely with their work and life, and it may be a wasted effort since tobacco is sold everywhere, making it too easy to relapse.
In-fact most relatively new smokers probably try to quit multiple times, due to the vague knowledge that smoking can be deadly and is frowned upon, and because people generally do not want a substance to control their lives. Also, even towards the beginning of tobacco use a person notices that they suddenly cannot breathe as well and are physically out of shape, and that everything they own smells like acrid smoke. Perhaps some people succeed in quitting, but many people give up on trying to quit after multiple failed attempts.
Quitting nicotine is made especially difficult by the lack of good medicines for nicotine withdrawal. The most popular aides for quitting nicotine are actually comprised of nicotine, such as nicotine gum, lozenges, and patches. This keeps the nicotine addiction going, while simultaneously being unsatisfying compared to a cigarette, creating a mental state that leads to relapse. Various smoking cessation aides and real tips on how to quit smoking will be discussed in future articles on The Cancer Herald.
One shocking fact is that 32% of new smokers develop an addiction from the first dose, since even a single dose of nicotine can throw off the brain’s carefully regulated balance. This gives meaning to the advice given to children regarding tobacco: “not even once”.
How Tobacco Causes Cancer, Carcinogens Explained
According to the WHO, tobacco smoke contains 7,000 chemicals, 250 chemicals which are harmful, and 69 carcinogens, i.e. chemicals which can cause cancer. It is mind boggling to comprehend this, since each one of the 250 harmful chemicals has its own properties and damages the body in its own way, and the interaction between all of them in the body is likely incredibly dangerous.
This article will focus on how tobacco causes cancer via carcinogens, because understanding this truly exposes how each cigarette that someone smokes puts their life at risk.
In the 1960s scientists discovered that carcinogens can bind to DNA, as can be read about in-depth in this paper. DNA is essentially a blueprint which determines how the body functions, and therefore carcinogens interacting with DNA can cause problems.
One specific example is benzo[a]pyrene (BP), one of the most well known carcinogens in tobacco smoke. BP is actually found in car exhaust, soot, charred meat, and pretty much any type of burning plant matter including marijuana. That’s a subject for another time though. The efficacy of Cannabis for cancer treatment, and the possibility that its smoke contains carcinogens which could actually cause cancer, will be explored in future articles on The Cancer Herald.
Most foreign chemicals, including BP, are turned into water-soluble molecules via enzymes in the body, so that the kidneys can excrete the foreign chemicals via urine. The water-soluble forms of BP are known as epoxides, and they have a high affinity for binding with DNA. When epoxides bind to DNA, bulky attachments to the DNA called adducts are formed, and this can bend the DNA out of shape.
Scientists have found that adducts form preferentially at the guanine base in DNA, and when the cell goes through replication and copies the DNA, usually an adenine base is placed opposite of the guanine base where the adduct was located, rather than the typical cytosine base opposite a guanine base.
This mutation can completely change the function of cells, possibly leading to the out of control growth that defines cancer. It can be thought of as changing a critical line in a computer program’s code, which would cause the program to not function correctly or even crash.
A specific example is that the DNA for the TP53 gene can be modified via the process described above. TP53 is in charge of making a tumor suppressor protein, and this natural line of defense can be eliminated by carcinogens. Indeed, TP53 mutations are common in people that have lung cancer, and occur right at the site of DNA adducts.
The body does have some ability to defend against this via DNA repair enzymes. This does not work all the time though, and if the adducts remain stuck then a wide variety of problems can result. Indeed, the lungs, mouth, and bladder are perhaps the most common sites for smoking-induced cancer since that is where the epoxides from smoking end up.
Finally, although numerous carcinogens are produced by tobacco when it is smoked, there are carcinogens present in tobacco even before it is smoked. One example is nitrosamines, which are produced during the tobacco curing process. Therefore, even chewing tobacco can cause cancer, as well as nasally ingested tobacco. Tobacco is dangerous to ingest and has the potential to cause cancer no matter what form it is in.
Tobacco Is Like Russian Roulette, A Single Dose May Be The One That Causes Cause Cancer
Thus, tobacco use is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. People become addicted to tobacco due to nicotine dependence, which causes the desensitization and upregulation of receptors in the brain, so that if a person quits then their chemical balance is thrown completely out of whack. This causes withdrawal symptoms, and makes quitting a difficult endeavor that can interfere with work and life. People often smoke a cigarette every hour at least, with some chain smoking, i.e. smoking one cigarette after another. Tobacco habits can range from a few cigarettes per day to several 20 cigarette packs, and each cigarette that is smoked releases 7,000 chemicals, 250 harmful chemicals, and 69 carcinogens into the body.
Regardless of the amount of cigarettes that a person smokes, each and every cigarette (and every single use of any other tobacco product) puts a person’s life at risk. It is like playing Russian roulette, in the sense that the carcinogens released by a single cigarette have the potential to bind with DNA, leading to genetic mutations, cellular abnormalities, and cancer
The only solution is for people to never ingest tobacco again in any form. This is something the government should have taken care of decades ago, but political lobbyists from the hundreds of billions of dollars tobacco industry have made it impossible to ban tobacco. Combined with nicotine’s extremely addicting qualities, which often produce an addiction during the first use, the situation seems intractable. Basically, if someone slips up and smokes a cigarette once, because they are curious and their guard is down, the addiction may start right then and there. Then that person can go to basically any gas station or grocery store and choose from a wide variety of tobacco products. If that person tries to quit there is no avoiding all the people out in public who are smoking, and every time that person gets gas or food they will see cigarettes for sale, and remember the nice feelings that cigarettes give while likely being ignorant of the severe consequences.
Cigarettes are actually being actively updated to make them more addicting, so the cigarettes of today are the most addictive in history. This is due to tobacco companies competing to take market share, resulting in a tobacco ‘arms race’. A future article on The Cancer Herald will explore this topic, and there will be many more articles as well on all the various issues surrounding tobacco addiction and its potential to cause cancer.
Considering the situation, with corporations and governments basically doing nothing to protect people from tobacco, each and every person that cares should take it upon themselves to educate, friends, family, and even strangers about the shocking tobacco death rate statistics and how exactly tobacco causes cancer. Hopefully that will cause at least some people to realize that every cigarette is a life and death gamble.
A final note is that nicotine, the addictive chemical in tobacco, is not a carcinogen itself. This has led to the rise of vaping technology, which is based on the premise that inhaling nicotine without burning any substances is much safer than tobacco. However, there are doubts concerning the carcinogenic potential of other ingredients in nicotine vape juice, and there have even been deaths recently due to poorly made vape juices. The Cancer Herald will soon post an article which will deep dive the vaping issue and explore if it is a healthy alternative to tobacco.