Photo: Courtesy of Dr. Daniel F. Seidman
A lot of attention is given to family dynamics when it comes to alcoholism, heroin addiction and cocaine or prescription-drug abuse. These are considered "family diseases." Living with these major addictions affects family life with problems that are acute—such as money and work crises—as well as chronic day-by-day problems, such as emotional withdrawal or abuse. By contrast, smoking may seem like a benign addiction when it comes to its impact on families. But in fact, it is far more widespread and deadly than these other addictions, and so has a far more pervasive effect on family life in the nation at large.
It astonishes people to hear that 1,000 people die each day from smoking in the U.S. alone! If each of them has an average of five loved ones, that equals 50,000 people suffering a tremendous loss from tobacco-related deaths every day. If you take 1,000 20-year-olds who smoke today, 250 of them will die in middle age and lose an average of 20 to 25 years of life expectancy. That's a lot of family life cycle events—births of grandchildren, bar mitzvahs, graduations and marriages—as well as holidays and other gatherings that the smoker and his or her family miss together.
The death or illness of a smoker in the family also molds family life through economic losses and emotional absence. It is estimated that half of all long-term smokers will die from smoking-caused illness. But for every smoker who eventually dies from smoking, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates there are 20 more people who are living "with at least one serious illness from smoking." Smoking therefore impacts family life not only through the premature loss of parents and grandparents, but also through the diminished capacity of those with smoking-related illness to fulfill family roles and expectations.