Tobacco use causes at least 14 types of cancer. In the United States, smoking leads to 172,800 cancers each year. These include cancers of the lung, esophagus, pancreas, mouth & upper throat, bladder, bowel, kidney, larynx, stomach, liver, ovary, cervix, leukemia, and nose/sinus, says the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health.

According to the Lung Association, smoking is the main cause of lung cancer. Between 80-90% of all lung cancer deaths are smoking related (an average of 130,659 annually.) Additionally, roughly 7,330 lung cancer deaths are attributable to secondhand smoke.

Most frequently, cancer is first diagnosed among people aged 65-74. Diagnosis of cancers of the larynx, liver, oral cavity, and ovaries – each exasperated by tobacco use – often comes as much as 10 years earlier.

Researchers at the American Cancer Society believe the DNA-damaging chemicals in tobacco increase the risk of oral cancer (lips, gums, tongue, and mouth). Most oral cancer patients are – or were – tobacco users, whether combustible (cigarettes, cigars, pipe) or non-combustible (chew, snuff). Tobacco, researchers found, damaged the lining of the mouth, causing rapid growth of abnormal cells. (University of Miami Health System) Tobacco use is also listed as the greatest risk factor for head and neck cancers (laryngeal cancer). Some studies from the American Cancer Society find extended exposure to secondhand smoke may increase the risk of laryngeal cancer. (American Cancer Society) Currently, no routine screenings exist for laryngeal or oral cavity cancers.

Early cancers of the ovaries and lungs generally show no indications either. Patients with ovarian cancer report nonspecific irritable bowel symptoms. Normally the first sign of lung (or laryngeal) cancer is hoarseness and coughing. Often people presume the reason for these signal other (temporary) conditions. “Usually symptoms of lung cancer do not appear until the disease is already at an advanced, non-curable stage,” according to the American Lung Association Lung Cancer Fact Sheet.

Avoiding tobacco use altogether is an important step in preventing the onset of cancer. Quitting smoking entirely is the only proven strategy for reducing tobacco-related cancer risks. (US Surgeon General)

Smoke Free St. Joe is a coalition of health organizations, civic groups, businesses, schools, and individuals focused on reducing the burden of tobacco in our community and increasing quality of life for all. We work with the Indiana Tobacco Quit Line to offer resources to smokers ready to quit. Lead agencies, Saint Joseph Health System and Community Wellness Partners, offer training to healthcare providers, employers, and organizations working with marginalized populations: pregnant women, LGBT communities, veterans, and youths.

To prevent exposure to secondhand smoke and the normalization of tobacco and vaping use among youth, we reach out to school board members, staff, parents, students, and other community members in support of comprehensive smoke free campuses.

Through cessation resources and pre-emptive policies, our goal is to beat cancer sooner, by preventing the leading cause.