Want to quit smoking? It's time for the Great American Smokeout.
By Mary Wade Triplett
I grew up in a house with two smoking parents. When my grandmother would visit, that would be even more secondhand smoke for me to inhale.
Luckily, both of my parents eventually quit. My dad caught a cold and stopped smoking for the duration and never took it up again. He became a staunch anti-smoking advocate and grew to hate secondhand smoke as much as I did. He learned what I already knew: Once you are no longer around smoke, you can’t believe how bad it smells and how difficult it makes it to breathe.
I write this not to make smokers feel bad but to try and explain this topic from the view of a non-smoker. And to encourage smokers to become non-smokers.
Tomorrow—Thursday, Nov. 16, 2017—is the Great American Smokeout. It’s an event created by the American Cancer Society that encourages smokers to give up cigarettes for one day, in the hopes that it will lead them to quit for good.
This is especially important in West Virginia, where smokers make up about 25 percent—one in four— of the population. That’s one of the highest rates of any state in the nation. In fact, there are only two other states in the same high category of 23.7 percent to 27.4 percent, Kentucky and Arkansas. The rate for the United States is about 15 percent.
The idea behind the Great American Smokeout is to illustrate that if you can quit for one day, maybe you can quit for the next, and the next. The benefits start happening almost immediately. Twenty minutes after quitting, your heart and blood pressure drop. Twelve hours after quitting, the carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal. Forty-eight hours later, your ability to smell and taste begin to improve. Two weeks to three months after quitting, your circulation improves and your lung function increases.
Those benefits continue over time. One year after quitting, the excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of someone who still smokes. Your heart attack risk drops dramatically.
Five years after quitting, your risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder is cut in half. Your stroke risk can fall to that of a non-smoker after two to five years. Ten years after quitting, your risk of dying of lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. Your risk of cancer of the larynx and pancreas decreases. And 15 years after quitting, your risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker’s.
In short, your life expectancy will increase if you quit smoking, as well as your quality of life. I remember once going to a bar to watch a friend’s band perform, only to have to leave early because I could not breathe. I told a co-worker, who at the time was a smoker, and he said essentially that that’s what I should expect from a bar. I disagreed, and eventually, after he quit and realized how horrible smoke smells, he concurred. Like my dad, he was a convert.
Consider not smoking just for one day. And if you want to quit for good, there is help out there. Nicotine replacement therapy and/or a prescription drug can help with the withdrawal symptoms. The West Virginia Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUIT-NOW also is a useful tool, as are in-person and online support groups, counseling and even your friends and family.
There are more tips and statistics available online, through both the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free West Virginia and the Great American Smokeout.
So put your cigarettes down. Maybe pick up a new hobby with the money you save. Taste your food better again. And breathe easier.