Research and Perspectives: Tobacco Is Not for the Body

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“Research and Perspectives: Tobacco Is Not for the Body,” Ensign, June 1991, 71–74

Research and Perspectives:

Tobacco Is Not for the Body

New research continues to confirm the Word of Wisdom’s prohibition against tobacco.

Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are among the healthiest and longest-living people on the earth today. Such are the blessings of obedience to the Word of Wisdom—a revelation found in section 89 of the Doctrine and Covenants—which provides guidelines for healthy living. Of all the treasures unveiled in the Word of Wisdom, perhaps the most precious gem is that “tobacco is not for the body, neither for the belly, and is not good for man.” (D&C 89:8.)

This simple and profound truth was offered to the world more than a century ahead of the scientific literature that now supports it. Though many of the following statistics are from studies conducted in the United States, the results apply worldwide. For example, cigarette smoking is now recognized as the most common preventable cause of death, early loss of health, and disability in America. Tobacco is accountable for more than one out of every four deaths, and it causes more illness and death than all other drugs—including alcohol and all illegal substances. Appropriately, the surgeon general has given cigarette smoking the distinction “Public Health Enemy Number One.”

Why, Then, Do More Than Fifty Million Americans Smoke?

  • Surveys, in fact, indicate that 80 to 90 percent of smokers would like to quit smoking. At least seven out of ten smokers relapse, beginning to smoke again within three months after trying to quit. Hence, it appears that most smokers smoke not because they want to, but because they are unable to quit.

  • A teenage smoking survey conducted by the U.S. government found that youth who smoked thought they would “definitely not” or “probably not” be smoking in five years. This strongly suggests that most youth underestimate the difficulty of breaking the habit.

  • Addiction to the powerful drug nicotine is the primary reason for continued use of tobacco and is directly related to the difficulty users have in quitting. Nicotine is one of the most addictive substances known to man. The surgeon general has compared it to heroin and cocaine in its addictive power.

Is It Possible to Quit Smoking?

  • Yes! About forty million Americans have overcome their addiction to cigarettes. However, most have tried many times to quit smoking before they were successful.

  • About half of all living adults who have ever smoked have quit.

  • In most cases, even after many years of addiction, quitting smoking brings health risk rates more in line with those of nonsmokers.

How Prevalent Is Smoking?

  • In America, smoking among adults has decreased from 40 percent of the population in 1965 to 29 percent in 1987. However, in areas outside of the United States, such as Africa, Asia, and Latin America, smoking is on the increase.

  • Utah has the lowest prevalence of smoking, with smokers making up only 18 percent of the population, while Kentucky exhibits the highest prevalence, with smokers making up 38 percent of the population.

  • Every day more than three thousand American teenagers start the smoking habit, with girls showing greater prevalence than boys since the middle of the 1970s.

  • College women are almost twice as likely to smoke as their male counterparts.

How Are Adolescent Smokers Different from Adolescent Nonsmokers?

  • They tend to be more obese and less physically fit.

  • They tend to view more television, have less desire to attend college, and date more.

  • They tend to be less emotionally stable, less intelligent, less group-oriented, less self-controlled, less conservative, less relaxed, and less self-confident.

What Are the Health Hazards of Smoking?

  • Nearly twelve hundred people die every day from diseases resulting from cigarette smoking.

  • Risk of death from smoking follows a dose-response pattern: the greater the exposure, the greater the risk. Those who smoke forty or more cigarettes each day have 2.4 times the death rate of nonsmokers.


  • Smoking is responsible for more cancer deaths than all other known causes combined.

  • Smoking accounts for 87 percent of lung cancer deaths; lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer mortality.

  • Cigarette smoking is also the major cause of cancers of the larynx, oral cavity, and esophagus, with smokers bearing at least five times the risk as nonsmokers.

  • Smoking also plays a significant role in the development of cancers of the bladder, kidney, and pancreas, and it is a likely contributor to stomach and uterine cervix cancers.

Lung Disease

  • Eighty-two percent of deaths from emphysema and chronic bronchitis are caused by smoking, with smokers ten times more likely to die of these causes than nonsmokers.

Cardiovascular Disease

  • Cigarette smoking is one of the three main causes of heart disease.

  • Heart disease is three to ten times more prevalent among smokers than among nonsmokers.

  • Men forty-five to fifty-four years of age who smoke are nearly three times as likely to die of heart attacks as are nonsmokers.

  • Women smokers have twice the risk of dying from heart disease as nonsmokers.

  • Smokers have twice the risk of death from stroke as nonsmokers.

  • Smokers are twice as likely as nonsmokers to be troubled with elevated serum cholesterol.

What Is the Relationship between Smoking and Pregnancy?

  • Spontaneous abortions occur 1.7 times more often among smokers than among nonsmokers.

  • Premature births are 1.4 times more common among tobacco users than among nonusers.

  • Full-term, low birth-weight babies are born twice as often to smokers as to nonsmokers.

  • Babies that are nursed by mothers who smoke receive nicotine in their milk.

  • Smoking increases the risk of infertility in men and women. Fortunately, fertility improves after cessation of smoking.

What Are the Different Categories of Tobacco Smoke?

  • Mainstream smoke is the smoke inhaled by the smoker.

  • Sidestream smoke is the smoke emitted from a burning tobacco product.

  • Environmental tobacco smoke (ETS) is the combination of sidestream smoke and the smoke exhaled by the smoker. ETS is sometimes referred to as secondary or passive smoke.

Is There Really a Danger to Nonsmokers from Environmental Tobacco Smoke?

  • More than thirty years of research have conclusively established that cigarette smoke contains multiple carcinogens, or cancer-causing agents.

  • Evidence is also abundant that tobacco smoke inhaled by healthy nonsmokers causes disease, including lung cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory dysfunction, and chronic irritation.

  • Children in homes of parents who smoke are at significantly increased risk of developing bronchitis, pneumonia, tonsillitis, chronic cough, wheezing, middle ear effusions, and related illnesses.

  • The Environmental Protection Agency concludes that the inhaling of environmental tobacco smoke by nonsmokers appears to pose a public health risk larger than the hazardous air pollutants from all industrial emissions combined.

What About Smokeless Tobacco?

  • It is a common misconception that dipping snuff and chewing tobacco are safe alternatives to cigarette smoking. Therefore, while cigarette smoking has declined during the past two decades, the use of smokeless tobacco has risen sharply.

  • Six million Americans use smokeless tobacco at least weekly. The highest usage rate is among teenage boys.

  • Smokeless tobacco users have two-and-a-half times the rate of high cholesterol as nontobacco users.

  • Long-term snuff users experience fifty times the risk of cancers of the cheek and gum as nonusers.

  • Use of smokeless tobacco is suspected to cause stained teeth, gum ulcers, dental caries, gingivitis, and tooth abrasions.

  • Since nicotine passes through the mucous linings of the mouth into the bloodstream, blood nicotine levels are at least as high in users of smokeless tobacco as in those who smoke cigarettes. Therefore, many of the health hazards of using smokeless tobacco are similar to those of smoking.

Is There Hope?

  • Yes, there is hope. Half of all people who have smoked have quit. Early education continues to help in the prevention of the use of tobacco. However, 29 percent of the population still smoke, even though 98 percent of the population know it is harmful.

  • Awareness of the consequences “of evils and designs which do and will exist in the hearts of conspiring men in the last days” (D&C 89:4) can help us resist the enticement of the advertisements to smoke.

  • Support from the Lord, friends, and family can help smokers quit.

His Priceless Gift

One of the primary purposes for our coming to earth was to receive a physical body. The human body is a priceless gift, the greatest creation of the Lord. Proper care of the body shows gratitude to the Lord for this gift and for the opportunity he has given us to progress.

Maintaining a healthy body allows us to participate fully in life and to experience the many joys afforded by work and play. Without the Lord’s simple warning concerning tobacco in 1833, thousands of modern-day Saints would have suffered the physical pain and spiritual distress that accompanies addiction to tobacco. As in days past and years to come, because faithful Saints have obeyed the counsel of the Lord and abstained from tobacco, countless lives have been blessed.


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Photography by Steve Bunderson

Illustrated by N. Kay Stevenson