Today marks the 38th Great American Smokeout, an event held the third Thursday of November, that encourages smokers to use the date as an effort to quit smoking. Participants may choose to quit for the allotted 24 hours or — better yet — to use the date to kickstart a plan to stop smoking for good.
Leah Vintilla, a registered nurse specializing in informatics and health statistics at Palestine Regional Medical Center, said there are “so many benefits” to kicking the habit, which can have a detrimental effect on a person's “lungs, heart, and just all of the vital organs.”
“Many people quit smoking because it causes premature wrinkling of the skin, foul smelling clothes and hair, bad breath, yellowing teeth and fingernails, and can contribute to gum disease and tooth loss,” Vintilla said, adding that “while those are good reasons for people to quit smoking, the primary reason should be for improved health and longevity.”
According to the American Cancer Society, the creator of the annual event, the decision to quit smoking can add years to a person's life. In fact, tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the US, with multiple studies attesting to the fact that the number one thing tobacco users can do to improve their health and extend their life is to quit.
Despite this, 43.8 million Americans continue to smoke cigarettes, nearly one-in-every-five adults.
The American Cancer Society reports that half of all smokers who keep smoking will end up dying from a smoking-related illness, a point that Vintilla also underscored.
“In the United States alone, smoking is responsible for nearly 1-in-5 deaths, and about 8.6 million people suffer from smoking-related lung and heart diseases,” she explained. “Among those devastating health effects, cancer, lung disease such as COPD, heart attacks, strokes and blood vessel diseases top the list.”
Other problems smoking can cause include complications with vision such as macular degeneration, cataracts or even blindness, Vintilla said.
“And as most everyone is aware, pregnant women who smoke are much more likely to miscarry or have a lower birth-weight baby, which can sometimes lead to learning and physical problems, or even death.”
All in all, experts agree that the benefits to kicking the habit make the effort worthwhile, and a smoker's chances of doing so increase if they become part of a program to quit.
Vintilla said these benefits grow over time.
For additional support, Sharecare and the American Cancer Society will team up today to host a Great American Smokeout Twitter Chat from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on social media sites Twitter and Facebook. Participants can ask questions using the hashtag #quitforgood, to which experts will weigh in and offer advice.
For advice on quitting or for additional information, go to www.cancer.org.
How does your body recover after kicking the habit?
20 minutes – Your heart rate and blood pressure drop.
12 hours – The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
2 weeks to 3 months – Your circulation improves and your lung function increases.
1 to 9 months – Coughing and shortness of breath decrease; cilia start to regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus, clean the lungs and reduce the risk of infection.
1 year – The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker's.
5 years – Risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder are cut in half. Cervical cancer falls to that of a nonsmoker. Stroke risk can fall to that of a nonsmoker after two to five years.
10 years – The risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. The risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas decreases.
15 years – The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a nonsmoker.
(Information from the American Cancer Society)