Smoking is the most preventable cause of premature death in America, killing more Americans than alcohol, car accidents, suicide, AIDS, homicide and illegal drugs combined. The American Cancer Society estimates that half of all smokers will die because of the habit – about 435,000 people every year.
Cigarettes contain 4,000 different compounds, more than 60 of which are known carcinogens. Smoking is the major cause of some cancers and contributes to almost all others. The most preventable form of cancer death, lung cancer, is also one of the most difficult to treat and kills more men and women than any other cancer; 87 percent of those deaths can be attributed to smoking.
In addition, atherosclerosis, the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries, is a top contributor to the high death rate of smokers. Even for those who survive, conditions like chronic bronchitis, emphysema, heart attack and stroke can severely reduce one's quality of life. And the lives of those around smokers also suffer: nearly 300,000 children of smokers contract lower respiratory tract infections.
Help for kicking the habit
Quitting now can help repair the damage to your body and allow you to live a longer, healthier life. Smokers who quit before age 35 reduce their risk of developing a tobacco-related disease by 90 percent, according to the American Cancer Society. Even those who wait until age 50 to kick the habit cut their risk of dying in the next 15 years in half.
Clearly, there’s no good reason to wait – make quitting your New Year’s Resolution! The following tips from the National Institutes of Health can help you stay focused on your goal and increase your chances of success.
Reduce your use. Set a quit date, then gradually cut back the number of cigarettes you smoke each day.
Build a support network. Tell friends and family about your plan to quit.
Make a list of reasons you want to quit. Review it several times a day, especially during weak moments.
Avoid temptation. Identify the situations that trigger your desire to smoke, and prepare to evade them. The first one to three weeks are often the most critical. Limit your activities to healthful, outdoor pursuits or situations where smoking is not allowed. Keep your hands busy and choose oral substitutes, like carrots, pretzels or gum. Exercise can help banish the urge, as can brushing your teeth.
Be aware. Many smokers lose track of how much and how often they smoke. Stop yourself as you light each one and ask, "Do I really need this cigarette?" (You don’t.)
Make it inconvenient and unpleasant. Switch brands and buy single packs rather than cartons. Keep them in a place that’s difficult to access.
Find new habits. Take up new hobbies that make smoking difficult, such as swimming, cooking or jogging.
Clean up. On the day you quit, dispose of your cigarettes, lighters, matches and ash trays. Clean your clothes and your house to rid them of the smell. Make an appointment with your dentist for a teeth-cleaning, then maintain that fresh-mouth feeling by brushing your teeth frequently.
Reward yourself. Use the money saved from not buying cigarettes to buy yourself something special, and celebrate milestones such as one week, month or year without a cigarette.
Seek Help. Nicotine replacement therapies (NRTs) such as the patch, gum and lozenges are available over-the-counter to help smokers manage cravings and nicotine withdrawal. The prescription drug Zyban, a reformulation of the antidepressant Wellbutrin®, has also been shown to be helpful. Your doctor may be able to suggest additional methods to help you quit.
Improve your chances of quitting for good by joining a tobacco-cessation class offered by Holland Hospital’s Center for Good Health. This seven-week class explores evidence-based techniques for quitting, including the use of nicotine replacement therapies, in a supportive group setting.