Everyone knows that smoking kills. Public health campaigns have spent decades teaching young people about the dangers of tobacco products. Even still, nearly half a million people die from smoking-related illnesses in the United States each year, and 16 million Americans are left battling serious, life-altering smoking-related illnesses.
It begs the question, why aren’t more people motivated to drop the habit? We caught up with two experts from ThedaCare to discuss the serious health implications of smoking and why its never too late to quit.
Lung damage is a well-known consequence of smoking. In addition to exposing their own lungs to smoke, tar, nicotine, and other chemicals, smokers put others at risk of exposure through secondhand smoke. Dr. Scott Parrish, a pulmonary medicine specialist with ThedaCare, explained just how serious the damage can be.
“Smoking is the most important risk factor for lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD,” he said. “When you smoke, you’re accelerating the loss of lung function that most people experience with age, which will destroy lung tissues and cause emphysema.”
COPD makes it difficult for you to breathe, not only because it destroys normal lung tissue, but because it increases the amount of mucus in your lungs, leading to wheezing and coughing. As a result, your activities are limited and your quality of life diminished, especially if you become dependent on oxygen.
Dr. Harsha Poola, an oncology and hematology specialist at ThedaCare, reiterated Dr. Parrish’s sentiments.
“Everyone knows that smoking causes cancer, but it also increases your risk of heart disease, stroke, respiratory diseases, and much more,” he warned. “Some people experience decreased fertility and pregnancy complications like premature or stillbirth.”
The effects of smoking are devastating, but you can quit anytime and experience notable health benefits. People who quit smoking are often able to normalize their blood pressure and lower levels of carbon monoxide in their bodies almost immediately.
“Quitting smoking can also slow down your loss of lung function, reduce your risk of COPD, and decrease coughing and mucus production,” says Dr. Parrish.
Years after quitting, ex-smokers can also significantly lower their risk of heart attack, stroke, and cancer.
“It’s never too late to quit smoking,” said Dr. Poola. “People can experience positive aspects of smoking cessation, even after a cancer diagnosis.”
Smoking is an incredibly addictive habit, but anyone can quit with the right resources and support system.
“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to smoking cessation,” shared Dr. Poola. “Getting advice from your doctor tailored to your specific health needs can be incredibly helpful as you pursue a smoke-free lifestyle.”
Before he gives recommendations, Dr. Poola likes to assess his patients’ readiness to quit smoking.
“I need to know if they’ve attempted to quit smoking before,” he said. “If they have, figuring out why they weren’t successful during previous attempts is vital to helping them reach their goal this time. Once I have a good idea of their circumstances, we determine a quit date and go from there.”
Dr. Parrish agreed.
“You have to be committed to the idea of cessation,” he said. “Once you’ve decided to quit, we can help you wean from the nicotine to make it easier. You may even benefit from a prescription treatment to increase your likelihood for success.”
In addition to support from your doctor, there are a lot of resources at your disposal to help you quit. As Dr. Parrish emphasized, the key is not to give up.
“You may have to try several times before you stick to it,” he said. “The important thing is that you keep trying.”
Dr. Poola suggests using a national smoking cessation hotline such as 1-800-QUIT-NOW. The National Cancer Institute created the toll-free hotline to connect callers with smoking cessation resources in their state. Anyone who is trying to quit smoking can benefit from the services provided, including individual counseling and potentially helpful medications.
Another great resource is the Great American Smokeout, endorsed by The American Cancer Society. The nationwide initiative, which takes place each third Thursday in November, challenges smokers to either make a plan to quit smoking or quit that very day.
Dr. Parrish issued this powerful reminder for individuals on the fence about quitting.
“If you continue smoking, your lung function will continue to decline,” he warned. “Eventually, you’ll become dependent on oxygen and the medications that treat COPD and other conditions won’t be as effective. Your risk for lung cancer will continue to climb, as will your risk of death.”
Dr. Poola agreed and wants people to remember they don’t have to go it alone.
“While smoking is a hard habit to quit, it is not impossible,” he said. “Many patients have successfully quit with support from loved ones and a well-designed, individualized strategy created with their physician. When you’re ready to quit, we’re ready to help.
Ready to kick the habit? Reach out to your primary care provider for advice and resources to support you on your journey.