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Study: Smoking likely kills even more Americans than we think

A new study published Thursday in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests that more Americans die as a result of smoking than previously thought.

The U.S. surgeon general says that 480,000 Americans die from one of the 21 causes of death officially linked to smoking each year, but the study says the actual number could be at least 575,000. Researchers looked at data from five big health studies, and found that out of the smokers who died between 2000 and 2011, most were more likely than nonsmokers to have died from an established smoking-related disease, the Los Angeles Times reports — that includes stroke, several types of cancer, most kinds of heart disease, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Those diseases were primarily what people who smoked to the end of their life died from, but 17 percent of deaths among female smokers and 15 percent of deaths among male smokers had different causes, and in almost each case, the diseases in this second group were more likely to kill current smokers than nonsmokers, researchers said. For example, the risk of death from an infection was more than twice as high for smokers than nonsmokers, and the more cigarettes a person smoked daily, the greater the risk of dying from an infection, which makes sense as cigarette smoke is known to suppress immune function. The researchers say that the surgeon general's tally should be revised, as "our results suggest that the number of persons in the United States who die each year as a result of smoking cigarettes may be substantially greater than currently estimated."