Smokeout: Reclaim Your Health by Quitting Now

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November 19, 2014


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If you’re a smoker and you quit, your health will start improving almost immediately. 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.

This is part of the message that the American Cancer Society is sending this month as it commemorates the 37th annual “Great American Smokeout” on Nov. 20. Held on the third Thursday of November each year, the event is meant to encourage more smokers to quit, even if it’s just for one day.

Tobacco use is still the single-largest “preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States,” says the American Cancer Society (ACS).

Studies after studies for decades have chronicled nicotine’s adverse affects on the body. Yet, about 42 million Americans (just under 1 in every 5 adults) still smoke cigarettes. In addition, there are more than 13 million cigar smokers in the U.S. and about 2.3 million people who smoke tobacco in pipes, the ACS says.

Currently, one-in-five deaths in the U.S. can be attributed to cigarette smoking, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Smoking causes about 90 percent of male and 80 percent of female lung cancer deaths. And smoking is a major risk factor for heart disease. Cigarette smokers are 2 to 4 times more likely to develop coronary heart disease than nonsmokers.

Quitting Can ‘Give Back Years of Life’
Why quit? The ASC puts it succinctly: “Quitting while you are younger will reduce your health risks more, but quitting at any age can give back years of life that would be lost by continuing to smoke.”

Because nicotine is addictive, quitting tobacco use can be extremely difficult, especially after years of dependency, says Patricia Feito, M.D., a family medicine specialist affiliated with Baptist Health. The decision to quit must genuinely come from the smoker, and he or she must be firmly committed, says Dr. Feito.

“I like to educate patients who smoke about tobacco’s affect 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.”

The “game plan” for quitting can involve reducing the number of cigarettes smoked daily over a few weeks, using low-dose nicotine cigarettes or smoking-cessation aids, until the predetermined “quit day” arrives. After that, a plan to improve nutrition and incorporate exercise, in addition to modifying lifestyle factors also helps, Dr. Feito says.

“Patients fear the withdrawal side effects of nicotine,” Dr. Feito says.  “Withdrawal of nicotine can include fatigue, headaches, depression, irritability, and moreover increased appetite and strong cravings which may lead to binge eating. But dietary habits should be adjusted and exercise does help. In addition, there are also prescribed treatments, such as oral medications or patches that can help wean the body off nicotine and control cravings and withdrawal.”

Consult with your primary care physician to get started on a plan to quit smoking.

How does the average smoker’s body recover over time after quitting? The American Cancer Society says that after…

20 minutes:
Your heart rate and blood pressure start to drop.

12 hours:
The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.

2 weeks to 3 months:
Your circulation improves, while your lung function increases.

1 to 9 months:
Coughing and shortness of breath decrease. Your lungs start to regain normal functionality, increasing its ability to fight infection.

1 year:
The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker’s.

5 years:
Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer risk falls to that of a non-smoker. Stroke risk can fall to that of a non-smoker after 2 to 5 years.

10 years:
The risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. The risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas decreases.

15 years:
The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker’s.

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