Some resolutions can save lives. Companies that invest in wellness programs can make tremendous strides in promoting a healthier and happier workplace and lower healthcare costs too. Every program should include a smoking cessation initiative.

The statistical realities of lung cancer are all around us. Few people would argue that modern research clearly links tobacco use to cancer, heart disease and stroke. For years, government regulations have required tobacco companies to label products with health warnings.

Still, lung cancer—the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States—remains often overlooked. Lung cancer is the most preventable form
of cancer. Tobacco use accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths and 80 percent of all lung cancer deaths.

The statistics are alarming. According to the American Cancer Society, physicians will diagnose an estimated 220,000 new lung cancer cases in 2016. The cancer society estimates 158,000 deaths from lung cancer this year. The United States Surgeon General’s Office has identified 20 million smoking-related deaths since 1964. Over two million deaths were attributed to secondhand smoke.

Secondhand smoke is also a killer. Even with declining numbers, smoking remains harmful not just to the user, but in some cases, more dangerous to those sitting nearby. Those that continue to smoke assume the health risks and pass those risks off to others around them.

Take cigarettes, for instance. There are two types of cigarette smoke: sidestream, smoke coming from a lit cigarette, and mainstream, smoke exhaled by the user. Although both types are dangerous, research shows a higher rate of cancer-causing chemicals in sidestream smoke because it is unfiltered. Mainstream smoke is inhaled through a cigarette filter, absorbed by the user’s body and exhaled.

When someone smokes indoors or in a car, the risks are amplified.

Chemicals settle in dust, carpet and clothes, wreaking havoc on unsuspecting bodies. Oncologists often find cancerous tumors in the lungs of patients who never smoked but lived with parents or spouses who did. Those are tough conversations.

Because smoking is such a huge risk factor, smokers and those living around secondhand smoke should watch for warning signs of lung cancer, including a new or different cough that does not go away or worsens over time, coughing up blood, changes in voice, unintentional weight loss and chest pain with deep breathing.
In children, secondhand smoke exposure may be linked to lymphoma, leukemia and brain cancer, in addition to bronchitis, asthma and higher rates of hospitalization. Smoking among pregnant women is linked to low birth weight, miscarriage and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

Children have little, if any, influence on their environments. They can’t avoid secondhand smoke or move to another place. While society is making strides in requiring smoke-free environments and raising awareness, work is far from over.

Two of the best methods to combat smoking are to lead by example and to encourage others to be mindful of smoking dangers. The most important step an employer can take is providing wellness programs that provide access to smoking cessation programs. Long-term health is worth the effort.

By Aimee Strong, NP