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Millions of disease cases in America caused by one thing

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NORTH KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- There's been one death in America from Ebola. Contrast that with the 480,000 deaths each year caused by smoking. A new report shows the number of cases of serious diseases from smoking is higher than previously thought.

When Les Lee smoked decades ago, the consequences weren't known.

"Everyone else was hanging one out of their mouth, so I did the same thing," said Lee.

Even though he quit, he started having trouble breathing decades later. That's why he comes to exercise at the cardiac and pulmonary rehab center at North Kansas City Hospital. Lee has chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or COPD. He has to use oxygen at night.

"If I lay down and don't have it, I huh, huh. I'm gasping for air," said Lee.

He's far from alone in having a health problem related to smoking. A new study in JAMA Internal Medicine finds Americans have about 14 million cases of serious diseases related to smoking. COPD is the most common. Add to it many different cancers plus heart disease and strokes. There were 50 percent more disease cases than previously estimated.

That may be surprising considering fewer Americans are smoking. But a physical therapist says it can take decades for the effects to appear.

"All of a sudden, they catch pneumonia or a cold and that starts the cycle. All of a sudden, they can't breathe," said Tedd Walsh of North Kansas City Hospital.

Walsh figures 90 percent of the pulmonary rehab patients he has are current or former smokers. What would it be like in the center if no one had ever smoked?

"Might be an office building actually," said Walsh.

Lee's advice?

"If you have to smoke, think of something else to do," he said.

He recommends quitting or never starting if you want to be able to catch your breath.

The report found more cases of serious smoking-related diseases in women than men. Doctors say it's possible women are more susceptible to COPD and lung cancer.