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New surgeon general's report says smoking's damage to lungs, DNA is immediate

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.

Obama hasn't lit up since March

President Barack Obama apparently hasn't had a cigarette since March, but the White House stopped short Thursday of declaring that he has kicked the habit. "I have not seen or witnessed evidence of any smoking in probably nine months," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs replied when asked about Obama's habit. Has the president quit smoking? Gibbs hedged. "For that nine months, yes," he said. "I don't want to be flip. I think the president would be the first one to tell you that it's a struggle."

Associated Press

New surgeon general's report says smoking's damage to lungs, DNA is immediate 12/09/10 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 1:39pm]
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