Compared to the general population, individuals who smoke tobacco products account for nearly 80% of laryngeal, esophageal, head/neck, and tongue cancer cases. Smoking is cited as being one of the leading causes of developing these different cancers – they are otherwise caused by extremely unhealthy life habits or genetic predisposition. Even so, smoking tobacco products is still the most prevalent way that individuals develop these conditions.
As of 2014, roughly 29,120 Illinois residents were diagnosed with tobacco-related cancers for the first time in their lives. Nearly 14,980 Illinois residents died from these cancers. The prevalence of tobacco-related cancers were so widespread that the Illinois Department of Public Health introduced the initiative to create tobacco-free communities. This project is geared toward preventative projects that encourage younger Illinois residents not to become part of the 18% of Illinois residents who smoke. Because many new smokers are under the age of 20, the smoke-free community initiative hopes to see this number drop as the younger generation paves the way for their tobacco-free future.
Chronic Smoking Causes Cancer
Although not much literature exists detailing individual smoking habits and consequences, case studies of these individuals detail the risks of chronic smoking. One such study follows a woman named Christine, now 55-years-old, who smoked chronically for 28 years. Christine began smoking cigarettes off-and-on in social settings at the age of 16 and unknowingly created a habit that resulted in smoking between one and two packs of cigarettes each day. This resulted in the development of oral cancer that was diagnosed at age 44. Christine received 35 rounds of chemoradiotherapy to treat her cancer. Despite initial success, the cancer returned one year later, and was addressed with more chemoradiotherapy. One year after that, the cancer returned once more, prompting more invasive treatment. To prevent the return of her cancer, Christine had to surgically remove half of her jaw. This impacted her life significantly but encouraged her to take a stand against smoking cigarettes in general. Christine currently gives speeches about the harm that chronic smoking has posed on her individual health to prevent others from making the mistakes that she did.
Cancer Treatment: Surgery
Cancers that develop from smoking tobacco are treatable, but do not hold promising prognoses. In fact, esophageal cancer and tongue cancer have high mortality rates even with treatment.
Surgery carried out to treat cancer can be either partial or complete. Partial surgery involves removing portions of the affected body part, while complete surgery refers to the removal of the whole body parts that house tumors. Commonly utilized in cases of advanced-stage cancer, complete removal requires various forms of physical therapy to help the patient adapt to life after surgery. Surgery often accompanies chemotherapy or radiation therapy to prevent the cancer from returning. With surgery and post-operation therapy, coaamplications and infection do occur with this method of treatment.
One example of complete surgery occurs in advanced-stage laryngeal cancer. In this case, the larynx, or vocal cords, are removed completely. Without vocal cords, patients undergo speech therapy to learn the different air pressures and vibrational patterns required to vocalize. Prosthetic and electric modulation devices are used to replace the larynx that is no longer serving to create speech.
Cancer Treatment: Chemoradiotherapy
Chemoradiotherapy is a combination of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Some individuals might equate radiotherapy – the use of radiation to kill malignant tumors – with chemotherapy, but they are not the same. Chemotherapy utilizes cytotoxic (cancer-killing) drugs to kill cancer cells. Most often, both therapies are used in conjunction. Cytotoxic drugs shrink tumors, making it easier to kill them with radiation.
Both therapies come with a host of side-effects and are not 100% effective in curing the cancer or preventing its return. Chemotherapy is often accompanied by nausea, hair loss, pain, and gastrointestinal issues. Radiotherapy causes similar side effects along with skin and respiratory issues.
Prognosis and Palliative Care
The prognosis of smoking-related cancers involves potential complications caused by treatment and the re-growth of cancer. This specific class of cancer reveals an average maximum of 10 years of life remaining after treatment. This does not include tongue and esophageal cancer, which reduces that number to around 5 years. Keeping in mind that most diagnoses occur in older individuals, the consequences of old age may be responsible for such short survival lengths.
Palliative care is any treatment option that is meant to enhance the quality of life rather than its longevity. For most smoking-related cancer survivors, palliative care is necessary to reduce pain associated with life after cancer. To address the pain and fatigue associated with chemoradiotherapy, pain reducers, therapeutic activities, and caretakers all provide the patient palliative care. Devices like the stents that hold the esophagus open/in place after an esophagectomy are also a form of palliative care because they help the patient breathe with more ease.
Illinois Lawsuit Against Cigarette Company Philip Morris
Madison County, Illinois housed one of the most widely-known class action cases against the harmful effects of smoking in Price v. Philip. Madison County received unheard of publicity resulting from this case, which claimed that Philip Morris brand cigarettes caused millions of dollars in statewide healthcare expenses.
Put forth by residents Susan Miles, Linda McHatton, and Sharon Price, and Michael Fruth, Philip Morris was sued on the premise that its deceptive branding of light cigarettes increased the nicotine consumption of Madison County residents, though the company itself claimed that the nicotine levels in their light cigarettes were decreased. Sharon Price herself was a chronic smoker of 20 years who switched to Philip’s light brand of cigarette, thinking it would spare her some of the negative health effects. The plaintiffs petitioned on behalf of Price, and all of the individuals who believed they were saving their health, when in fact they were endangering themselves (just as much).
The judge assigned to Price v. Philip initially ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, requiring Philip Morris to pay billions of dollars. However, the Illinois Supreme Court reversed the ruling, citing that Philip Morris was not at fault in their advertising as stated by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The case continued to be supported on a large scale, but it was dismissed by the Supreme Court in 2006. Therefore, the original ruling in favor of Philip Morris still stands.
Can Anyone sue a Cigarette Company?
The case dismissal of Price v. Morris illustrates how difficult it can be to take any big-name corporation to court. Many individuals have personally tried to hold tobacco companies responsible for health-related issues, including cancer and wrongful death. These cases are called individual claims. Individual claims can be filed by either the affected individual or a family member but must have grounds in a true tobacco-related illness. Individual suits are notoriously ineffective in suing tobacco companies.
Class action suits are more successful in gaining traction in their court cases. Class action lawsuits are filed by a group of plaintiffs that sue the company together. However as evident by Price v. Philip, class action lawsuits are not always successful either. One defining factor in the success of a lawsuit against any cigarette company is hiring an experienced litigation or product reliability lawyer and attorney. Without these professionals, either type of case will likely turn in favor of the tobacco company.