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Great American Smokeout Offers Perfect Opportunity to Kick the Habit

Smoking is the single largest preventable cause of death and illness in the world, with more than an estimated 480,000 deaths every year—or one in five overall deaths worldwide. Yet more than 34 million Americans still smoke cigarettes, and more than 16 million live with a smoking-related disease. Right now, 29 percent of all cancer deaths in the United States are related to smoking. In addition to causing cancers of the larynx, mouth, sinuses, pharynx, esophagus, and bladder, it has been linked to the development of cancer in the pancreas, cervix, ovary (mucinous), colon/rectum, kidney, and stomach, and in some types of leukemia. And yes, cigars and pipes cause cancers as well.

That’s why the American Cancer Society (ACS) has put on the Great American Smokeout every November for more than 40 years. The event, which grew out of a 1970 event in Randolph, Massachusetts, when people were asked to give up cigarettes for a day and donate the money they would have spent to a high school scholarship fund. It spread to other states, and the ACS took it nationwide in 1977.

This year’s Great American Smokeout occurs on Nov. 21 and hopes to build on the successes the ACS has been seeing in recent years. Statistics from the ACS show that the smoking rate has dropped significantly, from 42 percent in 1965 to 14 percent in 2017. Yet, there is still much work to be done. Some groups of Americans, such as those who have less education, who live below the poverty level, or who suffer from serious psychological distress, as well as certain racial and ethnic groups, and members who identify as LGBTQ+, suffer disproportionally from smoking-related illness and death, the organization says.

Stopping—and staying stopped—has immediate benefits

Quitting smoking isn’t easy. One huge plus to doing so is that the health results begin almost immediately and continue to improve over time. Here are some of the visible, tangible ways that smoking cessation pays off physically:

  • 20 minutes after quitting: Heart rate and blood pressure drop.
  • 12 hours after quitting: Carbon monoxide level in blood drops to normal.
  • 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting: Circulation improves, and lung function increases.
  • 1 month to 9 months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease. Tiny hair-like structures that move mucus out of the lungs (called cilia) start to regain normal function in your lungs, increasing their ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs, and reduce the risk of infection.
  • 1 year after quitting: Excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of an active smoker. Heart attack risk also drops dramatically.
  • 5 years after quitting: Risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder is 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 after quitting: Risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. Risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas decreases.
  • 15 years after quitting: Risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker’s.

Other benefits? How about lowering the risk of diabetes, not to mention better-functioning blood vessels, heart, and lungs.

And you’ll live longer: The ACS says life expectancy for smokers is at least 10 years shorter than that of non-smokers, and that quitting smoking before the age of 40 reduces the risk of dying from smoking-related disease by about 90 percent. Quitting at any age can give back years of life that would be lost by continuing to smoke.

Finally, food will taste better, your sense of smell will improve (not to mention how you and your clothes smell), and no more yellow teeth and fingernails! Also, the savings—smoking is an expensive habit, and getting pricier all the time. Use this calculator to crunch the numbers, and if nothing else motivates you to stop, then let the bottom line get you in the right frame of mind!

How to get help

Stopping smoking is hard, so getting help is important. Quitting cold turkey is tough, and your chances are much improved with support, counseling, medication or any combination of those. You’re dealing with a nicotine addiction, and so having a plan is vital. Here are some proven methods for success:

Telephone quitlines

The ACS’s Freshstart and Quit For Life programs

Nicotine Anonymous meetings

Self-help books and materials

Smoking counselors or coaches

Encouragement and support from friends and family members

It’s best to double up on these, using two or more for best results. For instance, prescription medicine alone with nicotine replacement. Or use them all—and best of luck!