TOBACCO DAMAGE: Teen Smokers Incur Permanent Cancer Risk
A new study shows that teen smokers cause permanent genetic damage to their lungs and increase their risk of developing lung cancer, overturning longstanding assumptions that smokers who started as teens had high cancer rates because they had been smoking longer (Kerr, Newsday, 4/7). In a study in today's Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Dr. John Wiencke, a geneticist at the University of California- San Francisco School of Medicine, studied the number of DNA mutations in 143 lung cancer patients (Recer, AP/Miami Herald, 4/7). Wiencke and colleagues found the fewest mutations among those who had never smoked. Ex- smokers had slightly more mutations, and these levels were higher among those who started smoking at a young age, regardless of when they stopped smoking (Grady, New York Times, 4/7). ABC's Peter Jennings reported that "the worst damage is done by those who take up smoking before they are 15" ("World News," 4/6). Current smokers had the most mutations, and their levels were closely related to the number of cigarettes smoked per day (New York Times, 4/7).
How Does Damage Lead to Cancer?
Damaged DNA segments, or adducts, are known to stem from exposure to carcinogens like cigarette smoke. These DNA adducts are "believed to be one of the first steps towards the formation of tumors" (BBC News, 4/7). Further, Wiencke believes that PAH, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbon, which is present in tobacco smoke, may interfere with a gene that fights cancer (Perlman, San Francisco Chronicle, 4/7).
All smokers experience some damage to their DNA, but some can be repaired once smokers quit. Wiencke found that lung tissue in smokers who began as teens was less successfully repaired than that of smokers who began smoking at an older age (BBC News, 4/7). "We have a generation of people who smoked as teenagers, quit, changed their lifestyles and are now just walking time bombs for cancer to develop," said Dr. John Minna, director of the Hamon Center for Cancer Research at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center (New York Times, 4/7). "The public perception is that the younger you are, you'll have plenty of time to recover. But that's not so. Hopefully, people will focus on how important it is to deal with smoking in teenage years," said Dr. Jonathon Raskin, director of pulmonary medicine at Beth Israel Medical Center North (Mosconi, New York Post, 4/7).
Funding for Florida Program Cheered
As the Florida Legislature debates future funding for the Florida Tobacco Pilot Program, the Florida Coalition on Smoking OR Health and the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids have released a poll showing that 53% of state voters have a "favorable opinion" of the program. In addition, 49% favor the current $70 million funding level for the program, which has been credited with helping to cut smoking among Florida middle-school students by 18% last year. Thirty percent of respondents favored the $61.5 million budget backed by Gov. Jeb Bush (R) and state Senate Republicans, and just 16% support the House proposal, which would cut funding in half. The telephone poll of 601 registered Florida voters was conducted March 27-29 and has an error margin of +/- 4% (CTFK release, 4/6).