Last week I talked to you about my number 3 most hated illness, diabetes. Today I want to talk about number 2: cancer. Cancer, specifically as it relates to smoking.
Thanks to the commercials, I think we all think about lung and throat and mouth cancers with smoking, but honestly, I cannot think of any kind of cancer where smoking is not a risk factor. This is just one of the reasons why it’s so important to quit smoking if you smoke, and to never start if you don’t. In that effort, the American Cancer Society on the third Thursday of November each year hosts the Great American Smokeout. This year, that falls on Nov. 18th.
Smoking doesn’t just put someone at high risk for cancer; smoking causes multiple negative health effects. Initially, smoking can put people in a good mood, but in the long term it can need to irritability and anxiety. Smoking causes stains on teeth and increases risk for mouth infections that can lead to tooth loss or even bone loss in the mouth.
As far as the lungs there are multiple risks. People who smoke are at higher risk for bronchitis, and children who are around folks who smoke are at a higher risk for bronchitis as well as several chronic lung conditions.
A chronic cough, also known as smoker’s cough, is related to damage to the airways from smoking. The other lung disease that smoking can put you at higher risk for is COPD.
People who smoke are at higher risk for heart disease, and that gets magnified because smoking lowers your good cholesterol (HDL) while raising bad cholesterol (LDL). It also constricts blood vessels which affects blood pressure and adds to the risk of heart disease and stroke. Smoking can contribute to infertility, and it can increase erectile dysfunction. Smoking can lead to early menopause; it poses a big risk in pregnancy and for complications with the baby at birth. Smoking lowers your immune system which puts you at risk for all sorts of infections, and smoking can increase the risk of blood clots. It stains fingers turning them yellow and it causes wrinkly skin making people look older than their actual age. It dulls your sense of smell and sense of taste.
Having said that, I really believe that everyone who smokes knows it’s not good for you. That’s to me is not why people start smoking. They aren’t ignorant of the fact that cigarettes aren’t a good choice for health. I think most people start for emotional reasons, like trying to relieve stress, or kids who use smoking as a form of rebellion or to seem “cool.”
Unfortunately, smoking is so physically addictive that when the emotional reason is gone the habit is incredibly difficult to break, even when people are worried about their health risks, or worse, have developed serious health problems. I have had people who would know tell me that quitting smoking is harder than quitting heroin.
That is why I really like the Great American Smokeout. It’s not just someone saying, “You need to quit,” or even, “You need to quit and this is why.”
It’s “Let us help you quit.” It is so easy to say, “You need to quit,” but quitting is incredibly difficult. Cigarettes, other tobacco products, and vapes are quite literally designed to be as addictive as possible.
Quitting takes a huge amount of effort and support from those around the person trying to quit. Please visit the American Cancer Society’s website on the Great American Smokeout at www.cancer.org/healthy/stay-away-from-tobacco/great-american-smokeout.html.
They have resources for people who want to quit, including support groups, medical assistance, and other proven methods to help people quit. They also have great resources for friends and families on how to support someone through the journey of quitting.
Quitting smoking is hard, but the health benefits are huge. Just 20 minutes after stopping, people’s blood pressure and heart rate drop, a few days after quitting, the level of carbon monoxide in people’s blood is back to normal, within two weeks lung function starts to improve, and within a year, the smoker’s cough decreases dramatically, and the risk of lung infections drops. After a year, the risk of heart attack and heart disease drops as well. It takes time, but eventually the body will recover to a point that after 15 years, most of the risk factors for all the things smoking causes are the same as someone who never smoked.
Please think about quitting smoking this year with the Great American Smokeout. I can honestly say, while I have been told many times how hard it is to quit, I have never been told by anyone that they regret quitting.