WASHINGTON — Smoking causes immediate lung and DNA damage that may lead to eventual illness and death, Surgeon General Regina Benjamin said Thursday.
New research shows that chemicals in cigarettes can harm the body "from the moment they enter your mouth" by attacking tissues as smoke travels to the lungs, Benjamin said in a report issued Thursday. Smoking weakens the immune system's ability to prevent damaged DNA from causing cancer, she said.
Benjamin's findings are the first surgeon general's report issued under the Obama administration. The document expands the scientific understanding of how tobacco smoke causes illnesses, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Margaret Hamburg and Thomas Frieden, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in an introduction.
More than 20 percent of U.S. adults, or 46 million people, smoke cigarettes, according to the Atlanta-based CDC. Smoking is the nation's biggest cause of preventable death, killing about 443,000 people a year.
A law signed by President Barack Obama last year gave the FDA unprecedented power to restrict the marketing of tobacco products and banned companies from adding flavors such as clove or strawberry to cigarettes. The law required that the FDA create the Center for Tobacco Products and the 12-member Tobacco Products Scientific Advisory Committee.