April 6, 2020 by Peter B. Laird
Smokeout: 5 Steps to Help You Quit
About 17 of every 100 U.S. adults aged 18 years or older (or 16.8 percent) currently smoke cigarettes, according to the latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The good news: The smoking rate has declined by nearly 20 percent since 2005 (when 20.9 percent smoked).
The bad news: the popularity of e-cigarettes, especially among young adults, has the potential to reverse the trend, according to U.S. health officials and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
The Great American Smokeout takes place today, Nov. 19. It is an annual observance launched by the American Cancer Society in 1976 and highlighted by events across the nation. “Smokeout” encourages smokers to commit to making a long-term plan to quit smoking for good.
About 42 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, and tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States.
Health Hazards of Smoking
Smoking causes immediate harm to the body, and increases risks for cancer, heart attack, lung disease, and early death. Researchers this summer shed new light on the lethal effects of smoking, finding that at least 345,962 cancer deaths annually in the U.S. can be linked to the nicotine habit. The new study found that 12 types of cancer can be caused by smoking. About 45 percent of those deaths are the result of cancers of the lung, bronchus and trachea, researchers said.
Tough anti-smoking messages on television and online, along with more smoke-free laws, have contributed to the decline in the smoking rate.
However, the surging popularity of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, is “threatening to addict a new generation to nicotine,” according to a strongly worded, policy statement — released last month — from the AAP. Among its recommendations, the AAP urges U.S. health officials to raise the minimum legal age for purchasing any nicotine product, e-cigarettes included, from 18 to 21. The group of pediatricians is also calling for e-cigarettes to be tightly regulated.
There are many questions as to the safety of inhaling some substances from the e-cigarette vapor into the lungs, according to the American Cancer Society. Since e-cigarettes are often not fully or clearly labeled with their ingredients, the user doesn’t know the amount of nicotine and other substances a person gets from each cartridge. A study done by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found cancer-causing substances in half the e-cigarette samples tested.
The industry and health advocates are still waiting for the FDA to finalize regulations regarding the sale and package of e-cigarettes.
The Challenges of Quitting
Because nicotine is addictive, quitting tobacco use can be extremely difficult, especially after years of dependency, says Patricia Feito, M.D., a Baptist Health Medical Group physician with Baptist Health Primary Care. The smoker has to commit to quitting, Dr. Feito says.
“I like to educate patients who smoke about tobacco’s effect on the body, not just the lungs and heart,” Dr. Feito says. “Not everyone’s lifestyle is the same, and for some people tobacco cessation is more difficult. After the appropriate education, counseling and support is in place, the decision to quit tobacco must come from the patient. I will help with a game plan once they make the decision to quit.”
Physicians emphasize that a smoker’s health will start improving almost immediately upon quitting. If you stay off cigarettes for 12 months, your excess risk of coronary heart disease is reduced to half that of a person who continues to smoke.
“If you haven’t smoked for 15 years, your risk of lung cancer is fairly close to that of a non-smoker,” says Juan Carlos Batlle, M.D., chief of thoracic imaging at Baptist Health South Florida, whose team screens thousands of patients a year, many of them ex-smokers who qualify for a low-dose CT lung cancer screenings.
Five Ways to Help You Quit Smoking
Physicians understand that quitting smoking is very challenging, so a good plan can help someone get past symptoms of withdrawal. Here are five steps recommended by the CDC and American Cancer Society, in addition to consulting with your primary physician:
- Set a quit date. You can choose the Great American Smokeout as the day, or within the next 2 weeks.
- Tell your family and friends about your quit plan. Share your goal with the important people in your life and ask for support. A daily phone call, e-mail, or text message can help you stay on course and provide moral support.
- Be prepared for challenges. That sharp urge to smoke can last for a short period of time—usually only 3 to 5 minutes, the CDC says. But these moments can feel intense. Even one puff can fuel a craving and make it even stronger. Before your quit day, write down healthy ways to cope, such as: taking a walk or ride your bike; listening to a favorite song or playing a game; or calling or texting a friend.
- Remove cigarettes and other tobacco from your home, car, and workplace. Throw away your cigarettes, matches, lighters, and ashtrays. Clean and freshen your car, home, and workplace. Old cigarette odors can cause cravings.
- Talk to your doctor about quitting options. Nicotine patches, gum, or other approved quitting medication can help with cravings.
When the U.S. Surgeon General of the United States released the first report on the health hazards of smoking, more than 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked. The landmark marked the beginning of an anti-smoking campaign, which – by conservative estimates – may have saved at least 8 million lives, according to recent studies cited by the U.S. Surgeon General’s office.
“There has been tremendous progress,” says Baptist Health pulmonologist Rodney Benjamin, M.D. “Most people who can do it have stopped smoking. But people who still smoke are just addicted. The approach to helping them should be an addiction-focused approach, not just a behavioral approach.”