Research on the adverse health effects of cigarette smoking continues to advance, with health experts particularly noting the link between tobacco use and lung cancer. A previous article cites the American Cancer Society’s recent study, which reveals that lung cancer incidence rates among women are significantly higher than men across all age groups. While other factors like lack of healthcare access can explain this gender disparity, the report also points out the significant role of smoking in lung cancer incidence and diagnosis.
Approximately 197,000 individuals in the US are diagnosed with lung cancer annually, making it the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the country. Cigarette smoking accounts for 80% of these cases and deaths, raising the need for smokers to be aware of how smoking increases the risk of lung cancer. Additionally, this alarming trend of smoking-related lung cancer rates also calls for increased access to tobacco cessation and treatment programs, with the goal of improving smokers’ long-term health and well-being.
Smoking is linked to stop-gain mutations
Although biological factors like genetics can influence stop-gain mutations (SGMs), which are DNA variants that interfere with the functioning of tumor suppressor genes, recent studies reveal that environmental factors can also help form these mutations that contribute to the development of cancer. Among these lifestyle choices is tobacco smoking, as new research published in Science Advances found a correlation between tobacco-driven SGMs in lung cancer and smoking history.
Lung cancer samples were also observed to include an average of 10.5 tobacco smoking–associated SGMs per genome, with 73% of cancers having at least one while 39% had at least ten. Increased tobacco smoking also translated into a higher SGM burden, but researchers and clinicians maintain that the development and progression of lung cancer can be prevented through long-term cessation among frequent and active smokers.
Accessibility to smoking cessation and treatment must be increased
Smoking-related diseases like lung cancer are preventable, hence the call for increased accessibility to smoking cessation interventions. Stop-smoking medications such as bupropion and varenicline are documented to be effective in reducing tobacco dependence, but the need for prescription means they may be inaccessible among smokers without financial resources or insurance for healthcare services.
Alternatively, this lack of equitable access has led to the rise of smoking alternatives, which are products that help alleviate nicotine cravings and withdrawal symptoms without containing tobacco. Among these are tobacco-free nicotine pouches, whose potential as a smoking alternative lies in their discreet oral delivery format and dosage options that can be adjusted to smokers’ needs. Compared to prescription medications, top pouch brands like ZYN are also widely available offline in pharmacies and convenience stores. Meanwhile, online retailers ship directly from warehouses to US states with flexible shipping options like express delivery.
Besides pharmacotherapy and tobacco-free alternatives, state governments and health departments are also working to expand access to behavioral treatments for tobacco dependence. Research published in Nicotine & Tobacco Research notes that proactive referrals to behavioral counseling by healthcare providers and staff have helped increase enrollment rates to smoking cessation interventions, especially among low-income smokers. Additionally, there are state-run quitlines via 1-800-QUIT-NOW that provide free, 24/7 coaching and support to smokers planning to quit or currently undergoing cessation.
Such examples indicate the wide range of evidence-based smoking cessation interventions, whether smokers choose pharmacotherapy, the behavioral route, or both. Nonetheless, there remains work to be done in increasing smokers’ awareness of these cessation strategies, especially those from low-income backgrounds or who reside in communities with limited access to formal healthcare services.
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