While widely reported studies suggest that moderate drinking (one drink a day for women, two for men) can be good for your heart, no one ever recommends moderate smoking. With heart disease, cancer and stroke the three leading causes of death for Americans, it's important to consider that the CDC names tobacco, poor diet and alcohol as primary causes of those deaths. If you thought they were helping you manage stress, think again.
Since 1965, when the U.S. surgeon general first told us that smoking was hazardous to our health, the number of smokers in this country has been cut in half. Still, tobacco is responsible for killing almost 500,000 Americans each year through heart disease, cancer, stroke, other lung diseases besides cancer, and fires. That's right, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, more people die in house fires each year in this country than all other disasters combined (not counting 9/11), and the leading cause of those deaths is smoking.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services says smoking decreases fertility in both men and women, wreaks havoc on the immune system, stains and soils clothes and skin, and turns the air around you into something other people have to smoke, too.
On the other hand, here's what quitting gives you: In 20 minutes, your blood pressure drops to normal, your pulse slows to normal and cardiovascular damage begins to subside. After eight hours, carbon monoxide levels in the blood decrease and oxygen begins to increase. After 24 hours, your chance of heart attack decreases and the amount of O2 in your blood returns to normal. After one year, your risk of heart disease is reduced by half. After five years, your risk of stroke is equivalent to a nonsmoker's; after 10 years, your risk of lung cancer is cut in half. After 15 years, an ex-smoker's risk of heart disease is equivalent to someone who has never smoked. You're in the business of saving lives. Why not save your own?
You'll also save money. At current rates of $4 a pack for cigarettes, a one-pack-a-day smoker will save $120 in a month; $1,460 in a year; and almost $15,000 in 10 years. A two-pack-a-day smoker saves twice that.
FIVE WAYS TO QUIT
The five most common methods of quitting are:
- Cold turkey (set a date and throw the smokes away);
- Tapering off (smoke one less a day until you're down to zero, or smoke your first cigarette a half-hour later each day, until you're out of time);
- The nicotine patch (it leaches nicotine into your skin, but you'll still have to retrain the habit in your hands, your mouth and your mind);
- Nicotine gum (perfect for smokeless tobacco users);
- Zyban or Wellbutrin (start taking this prescription antidepressant a week to 10 days before you want to quit, to give it time to kick in).
Select a quit date that isn't too stressful--probably not Christmas with the family, but no day is perfect--and begin. Get support from a person who can be understanding and objective--perhaps a buddy who has recently quit or a coworker who will quit with you--or a focused support group. California residents can access a Smokers' Helpline (800/No-Butts), which also offers referrals to 15 other states that offer free counseling for smokers.
Admittedly, quitting is not easy. Every time you want to reach for a cigarette, stop, sit down, take 10 or 20 deep breaths, then shake out and carry on. Make a list of other things you can do instead of smoke: Take a walk; chew on carrots, celery, sugarless gum, or a straw; call your support person; call a helpline; remind yourself you're saving a life.
- The Personal Quit Smoking Plan (courtesy of the Santa Clara County [CA] Public Health Department Tobacco Prevention Education Program). Click on Quit Smoking.
- The American Cancer Society. Guide for quitting smoking.
This article was adapted from an original report by former EMS Magazine Associate Editor Kathryn Robyn.