WHO: Smoking Increases Risk of Dementia

July 11, 2014

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The U.S. Surgeon General and other public health authorities around the world have found that smoking damages nearly every organ in the human body and harms health at every stage of life.  Yet we are continually learning new ways in which smoking harms health.

In the latest example, the World Health Organization (WHO) and Alzheimer’s Disease International are reporting, based on a review of scientific studies, that smokers have a 45 percent higher risk of developing dementia compared to non-smokers.  “It is estimated that 14% of [Alzheimer’s disease] cases worldwide are potentially attributable to smoking,” the organizations write in a short report summarizing the scientific evidence.

The evidence indicates the more a person smokes, the higher the risk, and also links secondhand smoke to an increased risk of dementia.

The WHO is calling on governments to implement proven measures to reduce tobacco use and exposure to secondhand smoke, as called for by the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control.  These include comprehensive smoke-free laws, higher tobacco taxes, graphic warning labels and bans on tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship, as well as public education campaigns and tobacco cessation services.

This research shows that a decrease in smoking now is likely to result in a substantial decrease in the burden of dementia in the years to come,” said Dr. Shekhar Saxena, Director of the Department for Mental Health and Substance Abuse at WHO.

Tobacco use is the world’s number one cause of preventable death, killing about six million people worldwide each year.  Without strong action, tobacco use is projected to kill one billion people worldwide this century.  The links between smoking and dementia reinforce the urgent need to address this global epidemic.