Kicking the Tobacco Habit for Good

For decades, tobacco companies had the American public convinced we could be rugged like the Marlboro Man, smooth like Joe Camel or glamorous like the models in Virginia Slims advertisements. And while the industry has taken a big hit in recent years due to tobacco control legislation, the American Cancer Society was one of the first and loudest voices to warn about the dangers of smoking and tobacco use.

Since 1977, the Great American Smokeout has been held on the third Thursday in November to encourage tobacco users to quit for good. Americans from coast to coast will attempt to kick the habit for at least one day this year on November 17.

Haskell Kirkpatrick, M.D., physician and oncologist on the medical staff at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, specializes in treating patients with lung cancer and consequently knows a thing or two about the dangers of smoking.

“Quitting smoking is very difficult but it is the most important step any smoker can take to improve the quality of their life and health,” he said. “Everyone who quits needs to start sometime, so having an event like the Great American Smokeout can help get them in that mindset. They can set a date to quit, know they aren’t alone and get support to help reach their goals.”

November is also Lung Cancer Awareness Month and reminds us that prevention is our best way to combat the disease. Smoking cessation is crucial in that fight.

According to the American Cancer Society, smoking among adults in the United States has dropped from 42 percent of the population in 1965 to 18 percent today. However, that means 43.6 million Americans, or one in five, still smokes cigarettes, and an additional 15 million use tobacco in pipes or cigars. Among both men and women, lung cancer is the deadliest form of cancer, with smoking causing 87 percent of lung cancer deaths in men and 70 percent in women.

A newer trend among smokers is the electronic cigarette, a battery-powered vaporizer that mimics the feel of smoking and contains nicotine. Kirkpatrick explained that while users may feel like e-cigarettes are harmless, they are not a good substitute.

“Some of my patients switch to electronic cigarettes as an alternative, thinking they are safer,” he said. “Initial studies by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) showed that in addition to nicotine, other harmful chemicals including carcinogens were identified in the leading brands of e-cigarettes. Thankfully the FDA will now be regulating these products, but that won’t mean they are less harmful. All tobacco products contain dangerous chemicals, not just cigarettes.”

For those who have used tobacco for years, it may seem like it’s too late to quit and reverse the damage to their bodies. Medical research tells a different story.

According to the American Cancer Society, just 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure go down. In 12 hours, the levels of carbon monoxide in the blood go back to normal. After two weeks to three months, circulation and lung function improve, and in less than a year, coughing and shortness of breath decrease. After one year, the excess risk of coronary heart disease drops to half of someone who still smokes.

The good news just keeps piling up. As former smokers hit those annual milestones, their life expectancy goes up and their risk of disease goes down.

“There are plenty of studies including one from the New England Journal of Medicine that showed smokers lose at least 10 years of life expectancy compared to non-smokers,” Dr. Kirkpatrick said. “However, if they are able to quit they can gain back years of life. The younger you are when you quit, the better. Those who quit before the age of 40 reduce the risk of death associated with smoking by 90 percent.”

The thought of quitting smoking can be overwhelming, but there are resources, tools and support available from both the American Cancer Society and Texas Health Resources.

“The best way to fight lung cancer is prevention, but smoking cessation is the number one thing we can do in addition to screening,” Kirkpatrick said. “We have a comprehensive program at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas that offers low-dose screening CT scans for high-risk individuals.

“We have a multi-disciplinary panel of physicians that reviews the screening scans monthly. Our program has been ongoing for over a year now and last year we identified several early-stage cancers that were surgically removed and hopefully cured for good.”

To learn more about how to quit smoking and its benefits, visit our smoking cessation page or call 1-877-THR-WELL.

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