The average adult takes 15 to 20 breaths a minute — more than 20,000 per day, according to the American Lung Association. Healthy lungs are important to deliver clean air to our bodies’ organs and tissues, which convert oxygen into fuel to support vital body functions. When a smoker lights up, it affects not only the health of the lungs, but also the body structures that depend on the lungs for oxygen.
Smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death, claiming the lives of more than 440,000 adults in America each year, along with an estimated 50,000 deaths from secondhand smoke exposure. This is not surprising, considering that cigarette smoke contains more than 4,000 chemicals, at least 250 of which are known to be harmful and more than 50 that are known to cause cancer.
In addition to lung cancer, smoking can lead to a variety of respiratory complications and chronic diseases including asthma, chronic bronchitis, emphysema, coronary heart disease, stroke, pneumonia, peripheral artery disease, and cancer of the mouth and throat, bladder, stomach, cervix, kidneys and pancreas. A smoker’s lifespan is about 14 years shorter than a nonsmoker’s. Smokers also suffer from other conditions, including slow-healing wounds, infertility and peptic ulcer disease. More than 8 million people in the United States have at least one serious illness caused by smoking.
In addition to lowering your risk of cancer, emphysema, stroke and heart attack, quitting also decreases your likelihood of cataracts and premature skin wrinkling. Other benefits include more energy, better sleep, improved sense of smell and taste, and healthier skin.
Kicking the habit isn’t easy, but there are resources to help such as the Montana Quit Line. Through this free service, you will be guided into a program that will best fit your individual needs. The Montana Quit Line offers specialized counseling for a broad spectrum of tobacco users, including pregnant smokers, teen tobacco users and spit tobacco users. In addition to personalized counseling and self-help materials, you may qualify for free nicotine replacement products such as patches, gum or lozenges, and free or low-cost medications.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as soon as you quit, a series of changes in your body occur almost instantaneously, and the benefits continue the longer you remain a nonsmoker.
• 20 minutes after quitting: Heart rate drops.
• 12 hours after quitting: Carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
• Two weeks to three months after quitting: Heart attack risk begins to drop. Lung function begins to improve.
• One to nine months after quitting: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease.
• One year after quitting: Added risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a smoker’s.
• Five years after quitting: Stroke risk is reduced to that of a nonsmoker.
• 10 years after quitting: Lung cancer death rate is about half that of a smoker’s. Risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, bladder, kidney and pancreas decreases.
• 15 years after quitting: Risk of coronary heart disease is back to that of a nonsmoker’s.
Studies have shown that quitting at about age 30 reduces the chance of dying from smoking-related diseases by more than 90 percent, by age 50 reduces their risk of dying prematurely by 50 percent. Even people who quit at age 60 or older can live longer than those who continue to smoke.
The Great American Smokeout provides a great opportunity to make your plan to quit, however, any day is good day to start your plan. The Montana Quit Line can help you pick a quit date that is best for you. Your path to a healthier life starts with a call to 1-800-QUIT-NOW. The service is free, and so is the call. Make the call today.
(Jay Schuschke is a prevention specialist with the Montana Tobacco Use Prevention Program. For more information, call Havre’s HELP Committee at 265-6206.)