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167K cancer deaths per year blamed on cigarettes

The Los Angeles Times

Cigarette smoking can be blamed for at least 167,133 cancer deaths in the country in a single year, according to a new report.

That’s more than the total number of people who will attend the first four games of the World Series in Cleveland and Chicago. It’s also more than the entire population of Salem, Ore.

These are only the deaths due to the 12 categories of cancer that the surgeon general blames on smoking (a list that includes cancers of the lung, trachea and bronchus; the oropharynx; the esophagus; the larynx; the stomach; the bladder; the kidney and ureter; the pancreas; the cervix; the colon and rectum; the liver; and acute myeloid leukemia).

The National Cancer Institute says smoking also causes cancers of the mouth and throat.

And that’s just cancer. Smoking is responsible for nearly one-third of deaths due to coronary heart disease, and it causes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis, among other ailments, according to the surgeon general.

The new national estimate on smoking-related cancer deaths in 2014 comes from researchers at the American Cancer Society. They used data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to tally the death toll in each of the 50 states, plus the District of Columbia.

For each state, they combined statistics on the prevalence of current and former smokers — broken down by gender and age group — with statistics on the degree to which cigarettes are to blame for various kinds of cancer deaths.

What they found was wide variation in the proportion of cancer deaths that can be traced to cigarette smoking. It ranged from a low of 16.6 percent in Utah (where smoking is eschewed by Mormons) to a high of 34 percent in Kentucky. The average for all states was 29 percent.

Seven of the states in the top 10 were in the South: Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, West Virginia, Louisiana, Alabama and Oklahoma. (The other three were Alaska, Missouri and Nevada.) Not coincidentally, 95 percent of tobacco grown in the country is produced in Southern states.

The researchers drew a straight line between the tobacco industry’s influence and the “weaker tobacco control policies and programs” in the South, resulting in a higher prevalence of smoking there. For instance:

• Among the 21 states with anti-tobacco spending that is less than 10 percent of the amount recommended by the CDC, eight are in the South (Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia).

• The average cigarette excise tax in “major tobacco states” is 49 cents, compared with an average of $1.80 in other states. Taxes that make cigarettes more expensive are among the most effective anti-smoking policy tools available, the study authors noted.

Demographic factors are also at play. Americans who never attended college are up to four times more likely to smoke than Americans who are college graduates, and residents of the South have less education than people in other parts of the country.

Blacks — a group for whom 27.2 percent of cancer-related deaths can be blamed on smoking — are more likely to live in the South, while Latinos, for whom 19.8 percent of cancer deaths results from smoking — are underrepresented there.

The analysis revealed a significant gender gap in tobacco’s contribution to cancer mortality. Nationwide, 34 percent of cancer deaths in men were due to smoking, compared with 23 percent of cancer deaths in women.


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