Myth #1: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer–Period.

Now, lest anyone declare me irresponsible for making such a statement let me be clear.

It is quite evident that a history of smoking causes a person to be dramatically more at risk for developing Lung Cancer than a non-smoking counterpart.  I will give you that. 

However, the way this phrase is tossed around–has been used by organizations like the ACS, has been used by medical professionals, even–is irresponsible, and I will go ahead and say it, incorrect.

First lets look at the numbers:  According to Lung, over 50% of those newly diagnosed with lung cancer will be former smokers or never smokers.  The breakdown looks like this:

  • Current Smokers make up 35-40% of new Lung Cancer cases
  • Former Smokers make up 50% of new Lung Cancer cases
  • Never Smokers make up 10-15 percent of new Lung Cancer cases (courtesy of Lung Cancer Alliance)

On top of that, this quote may surprise some: 

“A smoker’s risk of getting lung cancer is in the range 1 in 10 to 1 in 20.”  (from

Now I’m not denying that a 10% risk is still too great a risk to take, but….  If only 1 in 10 smokers actually gets Lung Cancer…..  can we really say that Lung Cancer is caused by cigarettes?  Always?  If smoking is the only cause of Lung Cancer, why don’t the other 90% of smokers get a similar diagnosis?  There have to be some other factors involved.  What is the missing link causing these 10% to be the ones stricken with Lung Cancer?

If 10-15% of those who are being diagnosed with Lung Cancer are never-smokers, then there has to be something else at work here, yes?  And….  if there is something else at work for that 10-15% isn’t it possible, even probable, that there is similarly something else at work for at least some of the smokers who are diagnosed?

So what could that ‘something else’ be?  What are the other known risk factors?

  • Age:  Most diagnoses occur after the age of 45.   (Note–as will be visited in another “Myth” this does not mean that people under the age of 45 cannot get Lung Cancer)
  • Radon:  This is the second-leading cause of Lung Cancer in the United States.  It is a colorless and odorless gas that occurs naturally in soil and rocks.
  • Environmental Carcinogens:  arsenic, asbestos, uranium, diesel fuel, etc.  For that matter, I recently read an article that found deep-fat frying to be a common link for some Asian non-smoking women who were diagnosed. 
  • Radiation Therapy to the chest area
  • Family History of Lung Cancer–Note:  If you go into a doctors office and say, “I have a family member who had Lung Cancer, am I at risk?” they may say, “No!”  My doctor did.  But studies are increasingly finding that genetics may play a role here too.  Anecdotally, I can tell you that there are several families on my Lung Cancer board who have lost several family members to the disease.  In my family, I know that two of my Maternal Grandmother’s brother’s died of Lung Cancer long before my Mom was diagnosed.  If a doctor ever does tell you this, refer them to this study
  • Lung Diseases:  Some lung diseases including TB have been associated with an increased risk for Lung Cancer.

So…  Clearly, there’s more to the story than, “Smoking Causes Lung Cancer.”  This is why it’s so frustrating to me and so many others who are dealing with Lung Cancer in their lives, (whether through their own diagnosis or the illness of a loved one) to be asked, “Did you/he/she smoke?” immediately after hearing the words, “Lung Cancer.”  There are so many more factors that should be considered….  Not the least of which being the humanity of the person with the diagnosis.

If you were to ask me what I believe caused my mother’s lung cancer, I would have to answer honestly, “I don’t know.”  I could hazard a guess that her smoking played a part.  I could wonder if the chemicals that she was exposed to regularly at the factory in which she worked played a part.  I might logically guess that her family history predisposed her to the disease and her other risk factors twisted the wrench to make it happen.  But I would not tell you, “She smoked.”  I will not now or ever blame my mother for this horrible disease happening to her.  Suggesting that a person who has Lung Cancer has it simply because they smoked sounds a great deal to me like placing blame.

YES, EMPHATICALLY, YES smoking dramatically increases one’s risk for developing the disease….  And those who want to decrease their risk significantly–maybe even by the greatest degree–should never smoke or at the very least quit, but note–“Risk factor” and “Direct Cause” are not synonyms as we have historically been lead to believe.

Now, I can’t tackle the other myths without referring back to this one, so expect it to come up again (and again and again).  But from now on think twice when hearing, “Smoking causes Lung Cancer.”  Lung Cancer, like most things is about more than meets the eye.



13 thoughts on “Myth #1: Smoking Causes Lung Cancer–Period.

  1. In the past 40 years the number of smokers has been reduced by more than 50% (in real numbers), and the number of deaths from Lung Cancer have increased in all but one year, more than doubling. While getting people to stop smoking undoubtedly helps, it is not the solution to the horrendous death toll from Lung Cancer.

  2. Mr. Jones–That is some pretty powerful information, though I’m not sure about the numbers…. Where are you getting your information? Is there someplace I could read more? Where could I do so?

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  4. I firmly believe that what you have stated is true; the smoking correlation to lung cancer is a myth to which we have been force fed. I believe cancer to be a result of compromised cells and virus based. Our food supply(disgusting that it has become, and radiation from airports and check ups )to be the true evil doers. All the Best

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  6. There are facts regarding this issue, and the facts tell a story not similar to what is widely believed. The story of smoking and smoking healt effects is really a story of class struggle, class warfare between the common man and those of the upper classes, who’s intent it is to keep the common man subdued. My name is Joe Sloat, and I am an advocate of the common man, please let me speak my piece. I will tell you the story of a man, a common man, who travelled the world in his profession. Like many a common man, this man loved simple pleasures, and for instance one of those pleasures was the enjoyment of cigarettes. One day this common man, this world traveller, developed a cough. A deep cough, a cough that produced rivulets of tobacco-stained spitum. The cough prompeted a trip to a physician, and many tests were conducted. The results of the tests were made known, and the diagnosis was spots on the lungs. This man, this common man, this world traveller, died soon thereafter. But at no time was ‘cancer’ mentioned, only ‘spots on the lung’. Now for the story of another man, a common man. This man loved to smoke, and would smoke at any opportunity. He too developed a cough. A deep, gutteral cough. Again, a trip to the physicial, and again, a diagnosis of spots on the lung. This common man knew, of course, the cigarettes didn’t cause spots on the lung. He died a short time later. So what is known about these two men, these common men, is that they died of spots on the lung. The accusations that something as wholesome and natural as fine tobacco could be the cause of death is what the upper classes want the common man to believe. Why, you ask? Because the stated cause of the upper class is to burden the common man, to take away the simple pleasures he might enjoy, such as a good smoke.

  7. My name is Joe Sloat, advocate of the common man. Please let me speak my piece. I have heard that smoking has been associated, accused if you will, for many disease and sickness. Cancer, heart disease, Alzhimers, disorders of digestion, tumors, Osgood-Slaughter’s disease, sarcoma, carsosis, militosis, halitosis, excessive weight gain, water retention, confusion, hair loss, excessive consuption of pork products, dizzy spells, spots on the lung, timidity, extroversion, introspection, Wilkes-Barre syndrom, China syndrom, sprains, strains, back pains, clogged drains, aches and pains, and even the hacking cough. I ask, is this true?

  8. i am 30. i have smoked for 17 years. my lungs hurt, but i dont cough alot or have trouble breathing. i got a chest xray and my doctor said i was fine. but i feel the damage that has been done to my lungs. i have quit smoking now, the hardest thing i ever did (and i have a computer science bachelors degree, and that was no walk in the park.)

    i dont care if smoking causing cancer could possibly be a myth. i know for a fact it cause a great deal of pain in your lungs after about 10 years of a pack or 2 a day. and i do know, if i go a month without a cigarette, i feel alot better.

    please, if you think it is a myth, you have the freedom to do what ever you want, but if you want to live a long healthy life, do not start smoking. i hope this post helps at least 1 person, then it was worth it.

  9. Ziggatron–

    I hope you’ll reread the post to get a feel for the context. I would emphatically urge anyone who is a smoker to quit for the health benefits which are myriad. I agree with you whole-heartedly. Smoking does untold damage to the body in MANY ways (the risks associated with cancer are so much more than JUST LUNG CANCER). My point is that because of the haphazard way we have been told ‘smoking causes lung cancer’ it has become a stigmatized disease. Those who have it are made to feel that they did it to themselves and that they therefore are to blame for their disease and are less ‘deserving’ of treatment or a good outcome. The data suggests that smoking DOES predispose you to a greater risk for having Lung Cancer. But it does NOT suggest that smoking is the ONLY cause.

    • I known first hand that smoking is hard on the body. I only smoked for a couple of years but could feel its effects on me. However, there are so many more things that have taken a toll on my health. Stress for one. Also, working long hours in the sun doing manual labor. Oh, and now that I’m working indoors, sitting in front of a computer and NOT getting any exercise has also been very hard on me.

      What am I saying? Any activity done in excess is going to be harmful. Moderation is truly key. I’m older now and I smoke a pipe. I seldom inhale and I only light it about three times a week. It brings enjoyment and relaxation which I know is way more beneficial that most anything I can do for my health.

      I’m 45 years old and many of the things that cause my body to hurt were unavoidable. I’ve also been to way to many funerals of people younger than myself. Most of them died due to the stupidity of others or sheer loss of will to live. The only one that died from cancer was a healthy tree hugger. Every day I’m alive is a gift and I try to make the most of them without abusing my body, mind or heart. I fervently seek the one who gave me the gift and I’m glad of the promise that if you seek, you will find. Yes, that’s off topic but with me it always comes back to that Man.

  10. I know more than I ever wanted to know about this subject. My mother, a non-smoker, died with lung cancer in 2007, and she had to deal with the stigma all the way til the end… the point of being embarrassed to tell people her disease.

    I agree with your post on the overstating of lung cancer & smoking…..on top of the 1 in 10 odds of a smoker ever getting the disease, it creates the stigma that keeps lung cancer from getting the research and attention it deserves. No one is ever going to have a ribbon-wearing parade or run a marathon for lung cancer, even though it kills far more than every cancer combined.

    And on the other side is the under-reporting of all the other ways smoking harms your health -especially your heart.

  11. I found the money trail I’d been looking for. Seems many of the anti-smoking groups have received heavy funding from Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) – a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson.. the biggest maker of nicotine replacement products in the US . The anti smoking groups of course heavily promote the Johnson & Johnson ‘quit’ aids..patches and drugs and I assume they take on board RWJF’s ‘encouragement’ to become activists against smoking too.

    So it urns out it’s a trade war after all that. Pharma wants to shut the tobacco companies out of what is a very cheap, beneficial drug, nicotine, and so they’ve spent money instigating this anti-smoking campaign. Not the first time I’d add. Heroin was made illegal when they couldn’t sell their side-effect riddled synthetics.

  12. It is well known that smoking is dangerous in many different ways. Smoking over a period of time leads to many different health problems. Smoking is particularly damaging to the heart and lungs. Smoking can lead to a number of lung diseases or disorders including COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder), lung cancer, Emphysema, and shortness of breath. But exactly how can smoking destroy your lungs.
    Article source :

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