By Jennifer (Smith) Schuler
I have a childhood memory of biking into town several miles with my younger sister, nervously purchasing a pack of cigarettes to try later in the tool shed behind our house. Years later my mother told me she had found that old pack back there yet decided not to say anything about it. Flash forward to adulthood when I worked as the tobacco control coordinator for a regional branch of the American Lung Association in Gulfcoast Florida. As I provided the public with information on the health benefits of quitting and educated children in schools about the dangers of getting hooked I realized something … it could well have been me receiving the help instead of providing it. That first experience smoking with my sister, as well as a few other encounters with cigarettes over the course of my adolescence, could well have gotten me hooked, just as it has others.
Twelve years after my career with the ALA, tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in our country, yet more than 45 million Americans still smoke cigarettes.
November 15th is the 37th Great American Smokeout. If you are a smoker, this is the perfect opportunity to make a plan to quit, or to plan in advance and quit smoking that day. By quitting, you take an important step towards a healthier life.
Due to its addictive nature, taking tobacco out of your life is not easy to do–yet it is certainly an achievable goal if you prepare, plan carefully, and set yourself up to succeed. In this 2-part smoking cessation series, I first provide you with some overall useful information. Then just before the New Year, I will offer some helpful tips to get you started on the road to a healthier, happier you!
Part 1: Smoking Cessation–Things to Consider Before You Quit
What makes quitting smoking so difficult?
Nicotine, a drug found naturally in tobacco, is as addictive as heroin or cocaine. Over time, a person becomes physically dependent on and emotionally addicted to nicotine. This causes unpleasant withdrawal symptoms when you try to quit, and makes it hard to stay away from nicotine after you quit. There are many other harmful chemicals and substances found in tobacco. To quit permanently smokers must deal with both the physical and mental dependence.
Why should I quit?
Simply put, for your health! Smoking harms every organ of the body. There are both short-term and long-term benefits to quitting smoking. There are also many ways in which quitting smoking can improve your appearance. The biggest reason to quit? Half of all smokers who keep smoking will end up dying from a smoking-related illness.
What other health risks are caused by smoking?
- Lung diseases
- Heart attacks, strokes, and blood vessel diseases
- Blindness and other problems
- Special risks to women and babies
- Years of life lost
Based on past data collected from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) it is estimated that adult male smokers lost an average of 13.2 years of life and female smokers lost 14.5 years of life. Plus, the diseases triggered by smoking can steal your quality of life long before you die. Smoking-related illness can also limit your activities by making it harder to breathe, get around, work, or play.
However, no matter how old you are or how long you’ve smoked, quitting can help you live longer and be healthier. People who stop smoking before age 50 cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half compared with those who keep smoking. Ex-smokers also enjoy a higher quality of life.
What difficulties might I face as I quit?
Some side effects you should be prepared to deal with:
- Unpleasant physical and mental withdrawal symptoms (due to nicotine deprivation)
- Overcoming rationalizations for having “just one” cigarette
- Temptations and triggers to start smoking again
- Loss of friendships and social activities that revolved around smoking
Immediate rewards of quitting
Big benefits you’ll notice right away and some that will develop the longer you remain smoke-free:
- Fewer withdrawal symptoms
- Fresher breath
- Cleaner, whiter teeth
- Better smelling clothes and hair
- No more yellow-stained fingers and nails
- Food tastes better
- Sense of smell returns
- Easier to breathe while doing everyday activities
- More money in your pocket each week–smoking is an expensive habit!
You may have heard that quitting smoking causes you to gain weight, yet health benefits of quitting far outweigh risks from a potential small weight gain (usually less than 10 pounds).
Long-term benefits of quitting
Just a few …
Within 20 minutes
Your heart rate and blood pressure drop.
The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
2 weeks to 9 months
Circulation improves, lung function increases, and coughing and shortness of breath decrease.
1 to 10 years
Risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker’s after 5 years; becomes the same as a non-smoker’s 15 years after quitting. Risks of certain kinds of cancers are cut in half, or fall to that of a non-smoker.
Now that you know the health benefits of quitting smoking and are armed with vital information to consider as you make your quit plan, you have taken the first step to a healthier life. Next month I will share proven tips to kicking the habit for good. In the meantime, I welcome former smokers to share their insights and stories. Here’s to your health!
For more information, visit the American Lung Association and American Cancer Society websites at: