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Smoking and asbestos-related disease: 5 things to know

Smoking rates have dropped steadily in recent years, but millions of people across the U.S. still smoke cigarettes. Millions more are former smokers or are living with a disease related to smoking.

The risk of smoking leading to the development of lung cancer or another smoking-related disease is real. But does smoking tobacco also increase the risk of getting asbestos-related disease?

The short answer is yes. In this post, we will use a Q & A format to inform you about five facts related to this.

It's been more than 40 years since the Surgeon General's 1965 warning on tobacco risks. How many people still smoke?

Rates have gone down in recent years, from more than 21 percent of adults in 2005 to about 15 percent ten years later.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this translates into about 36.5 million people age 18 or over who currently smoke. The CDC defines a "current smoker" as someone who has had at least 100 cigarettes in their lifetime and smokes if not every day, then at least some days.

Do men smoke more than women?

Yes, but the figures are comparable. According to the CDC's data, nearly 17 percent of men were smokers in 2015, compared to nearly 14 percent of women.

Do people smoke more in the South than in other regions of the U.S.?

Yes and no.

The highest percentage of smokers is in the Midwest, at nearly 19 percent. But the South, at a little over 15 percent, has higher rates than the Northeast or the West.

What effect does smoking have on the risk of developing asbestos-related disease?

By themselves, smoking and asbestos are known carcinogens. Put them together, and the combination is even more dangerous. If a smoker is exposed to asbestos, the risk of getting lung cancer is "greater than the individual risks from asbestos and smoking added together," according to the CDC. In other words, the risk multiplies several times.

What about mesothelioma risk and smoking?

As we discussed in a previous post on lung cancer and mesothelioma, those two conditions are not the same thing.

While smoking may cause lung cancer, smoking has nothing to do with causing mesothelioma. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure. So smoking does not increase the risk of developing mesothelioma. But the CDC does recommend not smoking if you believe you have been exposed to asbestos.

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