Tobacco Free Living

The Lake Oconee Boomers Team

Dr. Nina Radcliff

Tobacco use is the most common preventable cause of death. And thanks in large part to factual anti-smoking campaigns, there are now more ex-smokers than smokers in the United States. 

Most people have heard that cigarette smoking causes 87 percent of lung cancer deaths – the leading cause of cancer death in both men and women. However, what too many are not aware of is that smoking is also responsible for most cancers of the larynx, oral cavity and pharynx, esophagus and bladder. And there are more grim facts for smokers, as even these staggering facts are not the greatest killer of smokers – it is circulatory and cardiovascular disease, primarily heart disease and strokes. 

For any smoker, quitting is essential for their health. There are no “ifs, ands, or buts” about it, smoking is bad – it’s self-destruction. As one expert notes, “It’s easy to appreciate that the 43 cancer causing chemicals in each and every puff are slowly building an internal time bomb. What few comprehend is that before the bomb has time to go off that it’s far more likely that smoking will cause some portion of their body’s blood piping to completely clog, with downstream oxygen deprived tissues suffocating and dying.”

The good news is that as soon as you quit, your body begins to repair the damage caused by smoking.  But that does not mean “wait” another day.  It’s best to quit earlier than later, but even quitting later can lead to some improvement. 

How soon before I see the benefits of quitting smoking?  

Soon! Some benefits start within minutes, and the benefits continue to roll in. 

  • 20 minutes: heart rate and blood pressure start decreasing
  • 12 hours: your blood oxygen levels increase due to a decrease in carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide enters our blood when we smoke and is a toxic gas that binds tightly to our red blood cells, precluding oxygen from binding. 
  • 2 days: the ability to smell and taste begins to resurface. Imagine appreciating the scent of someone you love, the fragrance of a perfume, or the aroma of a cup of coffee. 
  • 2 weeks: You will notice an increase in energy because blood circulation improves, making all physical activity easier   
  • 1-9 months: A return of cilia function and, consequently, a decrease in “smoker’s cough.” Smoking affects the proper function of cilia–tiny, hair-like structures in the respiratory tract—which is to clear mucus and germs up and out. 
  • 12 months: your risk for heart disease decreases dramatically 
  • 2-5 years: your risk for stroke equals decreases to that of a non-smoker
  • 5 years: your risk of cancers of the mouth, throat, esophagus, and bladder falls to that of a non-smoker
  • 8-10 years: your risk of dying from lung cancer drops by 50 percent

What is the damage that just one cigarette can do?

On average, it can shave off 11 minutes of your life. Yes, each cigarette you smoke can harm you—and it really adds up. After just one year of smoking a pack per day, a smoker can lose 55 days–almost 2 months of their life. A decade of smoking one pack per day could mean losing 20 months!

What is the cost to our bank account?

The price of cigarettes varies by state and the average is between six and eight dollars, with the most expensive nearing $13 in New York. If you smoke a pack per day at, say $8 a pack, that is nearly $3,000 a year; $30,000 over a decade; and over 30 years, if you compounded interest even at just 3%, you would have close to $150,000!! Talk about wallets going up in smoke. 

What are some indirect costs of smoking?

They range from home fresheners ($10/month) to higher dental, health, and life insurance costs. If that’s not enough to get you or someone you love feeling the pinch, how about the fact that a smoker’s car sells for approximately 9% less than a non-smoker’s car? Additionally, homebuyers are also less likely to purchase a house that smells like an ashtray. And to get rid of the odor, it may require thousands of dollars for the seller to replace carpets, paint the walls, or deodorize the house to get buyers interested.

Tips to quit smoking? 

  • Decide you want to quit. If you are a smoker, quitting can mean a whole new, vibrant, energetic, world: better vision; a more kissable mouth; clearer skin; a decreased risk of heart problems; less erectile dysfunction in men and infertility in women; easier breathing; improved wound healing; a stronger immune system, muscles, and bones; and improved finances. 
  • Commit to quitting. Write out your plan and sign it, like a contract. Consider having witnesses to further cement that commitment. Additionally, by including your family, friends, and co-workers they can provide support and encouragement.     
  • Create a plan (don’t wing it). Figure out what resources are at your disposal—there is (there is no need to reinvent the wheel); how you are going to do it (gradually, cold turkey, nicotine patch); how to avoid situations and activities that you used to associate with smoking, including limiting your contact with smokers in the early weeks of quitting; and how you will deal with intense cravings. Also, speak with your healthcare provider to discuss options, including nicotine replacement products, medications, and other options. Additionally, the government’s site has a whole section on free tools, guides, and resources designed to help you quit smoking. 
  • Get through the cravings. The average, “intense” craving lasts just 3 minutes. But 180 seconds can feel like an eternity—but remind yourself that it will pass. Some tips to distract yourself include deep breathing or other meditations techniques, focusing on a loved one or happy thought, taking a walk, keeping your hands busy (squeeze a ball, play with a paperclip, send an email, call a friend), using an oral substitute (mint, hard candy, celery stick, gum, carrot, sunflower seeds), and drinking water (may decrease the urge).  
  • Spoil yourself. With the nearly $3,000 extra bucks from not smoking one pack per day for a year, splurge a little. Consider getting that cell phone upgrade, taking a trip, buying a new wardrobe, or creating a retirement fund.
  • Do not give up. If you fail (I hope not), try, try, try again. Many who have successfully quit smoking have had to endure failure. But they eventually did it. Literally and figuratively, your life is at stake. Go back to the drawing board and get to the bottom of things. By doing so, you will place yourself in a better position to quit the next time around.

The decision not to smoke is one of the most important decisions you can ever make. Many believe it is the single most important lifestyle choice you can make to live healthier and longer. 

Quitting is not easy. You may have short-term affects such as weight gain, irritability, and anxiety. Some people try several times before they succeed. There are many ways to quit smoking. Some people stop “cold turkey.” Others benefit from step-by-step manuals, counseling, or medicines or products that help reduce nicotine addiction. Some people think that switching to e-cigarettes can help you quit smoking, but that has not been proven.

And knowledge truly is power. The smoker’s greatest weapon is and always has been their vastly superior intelligence but only if put to work. By looking at the facts and crunching the numbers you become better equipped to not smoke —  or quit!!

Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing truths for healthy, balanced living as well as wise preventive health measures. 

She completed medical school and residency training at UCLA and has served on the medical faculty at The University of Pennsylvania. She is a Board Certified Anesthesiologist. Author of more than 200 textbook chapters, research articles, medical opinions and reviews; she is often called upon by media to speak on medical, fitness, nutrition, and healthy lifestyle topics impacting our lives, today.