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Published on November 13, 2017

broken cigarette on wood

Your Lungs Will Thank You: Joining the Great American Smokeout May Help You Quit (For Good)

On the third Thursday of November, thousands of Americans will join forces as they take part in the Great American Smokeout.

Since the national Smokeout began in 1977, many people have been able to quit, getting better health as a return.

You can do it, too. While nicotine is often considered among the most addictive drugs, quitting it can be done, and there are a wide range of tools that can help – just ask your family doctor or use resources from the American Cancer Society.

You can also visit the South Dakota QuitLine’s site or call 1-866-SD-QUITS to get started before the Nov. 16 national event.

“Educating smokers about the importance of quitting is perhaps the No. 1 reason the Great American Smokeout continues as a November tradition,” said Anthony Hericks, DO, Avera Medical Group pulmonologist. “We all are aware of the fact that smoking has been associated with all cancers, especially lung cancer, cardiac and vascular diseases, but some may still not realize that the earlier you quit, the better off you will be in the long run.

Quitting is important because:

  • Your blood pressure may improve within a few days and the scarring to arteries and the heart will decrease.
  • Your risk of cardiovascular (heart attack) and vascular (stroke) disease will return to that of someone who never smoked within approximately 10 years of quitting.
  • Your lung function and symptoms of lung disease may improve within a few months.
  • Your risk of cancer (especially, the risk of lung cancer) will return to that of someone who never smoked with approximately 15 years of quitting.

“Put simply, when you quit, it improves your health dramatically,” he said. “In the short term, you may notice that your cough may worsen, but that's because your lungs are ‘waking up.’ It is never too late to quit, as the earlier you quit the less symptoms and risk you will have in the future. Get a head start on it with this event – it can really help.”

While the damage to your tissues decreases after quitting, another key consideration that Hericks mentions is all around you: those you love.

“Smoking has both concrete and less-than-concrete effects on our children, spouses and friends. Second-hand smoke is a real threat, especially to young children, and there's the stigma that goes with it,” he said. “Smokers who have quit often tell me about how they had more time – as well as more energy – to spend with their families. They were not fixated on the next chance they had to go outside and smoke.”

Physically, the smoke from tobacco makes worse a grim laundry list of ailments, including vascular disease and heart conditions; it's known to be the No. 1 cause of lung cancer, and increases risk of breast and bladder cancers. The Surgeon General states “it is the leading preventable cause of diseases and deaths in the United States.”

“Smoking's financial impact on our health care as a whole, too, that's important to consider,” said Hericks. “The more health care spending we see, the more expensive it becomes for everyone – smokers and non-smokers included. You can directly reduce the cost of your care, including drug costs, when you refrain from smoking. It also will help to lessen the risk of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), heart disease as well as general health diseases.”

Hericks said all efforts to quit are good efforts. People who use nicotine-replacement methods should wisely consider the ones they try.

“The studies are still out on the dangers that may come with vaporizer products. If you are going to use a vape, it may be a good tool, but it must be part of an effort to quit smoking – and nicotine – altogether,” he said. “A vape may reduce your risk of lung cancer, but there's just as much nicotine, if not more, in the vapor these devices produce, and that drug is directly associated with vascular disease.”

Once you quit cigarettes for good, then aim to cut – and eventually eliminate – nicotine for good, Hericks suggested.

"It's an addictive substance that offers only risk and detriment to our bodies," he said. "Many people just like you felt they could never quit, and now they don't smoke – it's not easy, but it's not impossible."

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