On Thursday, we will celebrate the 36th Annual Great American Smokeout. Even after years of education and warnings, tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States, according to the American Cancer Society’s website, www.cancer.org.
More than 46 million Americans still smoke, which puts them at risk for multiple health disorders and places others living and working with them in potential danger of these same health problems.
If you love, live or work with a smoker, you will want to familiarize yourself with the following information, all courtesy of the American Cancer Society, so you can help someone quit starting tomorrow — on the Great American Smokeout.
Responsible for more than 430,000 deaths each year, tobacco causes approximately 50 deaths per hour. Tobacco use is blamed in 90 percent of lung cancer deaths in men and 80 percent in women, making for a total of 213,000 people each year. Tobacco smoke contains more than 4,000 chemical compounds and more than 60 of those are known to cause cancer.
Tobacco use increases the risk of high blood pressure and blood clots, which can lead to stroke or heart attack. Smoking increases the workload on the heart, contributing to heart disease — the No. 1 killer of Americans.
It is known to contribute to peripheral artery disease or blockages in the arteries and stomach ulcers. Smoking leads to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and emphysema.
Environmental or secondhand smoke can be as harmful to non-smokers as it is to smokers.
When non-smokers are exposed to secondhand smoke, it is called involuntary smoking or passive smoking. Non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke absorb nicotine and other toxic chemicals just like smokers do.
The more secondhand smoke you are exposed to, the higher the level of these harmful chemicals in your body.
Millions of Americans, both children and adults, still are exposed to secondhand smoke in their homes and workplaces despite a great deal of progress in tobacco control.
The only way to fully protect non-smokers from exposure to secondhand smoke indoors is to prevent all smoking in that indoor space or building. Separating smokers from non-smokers, cleaning the air and ventilating buildings cannot keep non-smokers from being exposed to secondhand smoke.
Making your home smoke-free may be one of the most important things you do for the health of your family. Any family member can develop health problems related to secondhand smoke. Children are especially sensitive. In the United States, 21 million, or 35 percent of children, live in homes where residents or visitors smoke in the home on a regular basis. About 50 percent to 75 percent of children in the United States have detectable levels of cotinine, the breakdown product of nicotine, in their blood.
Smokers have a hard time quitting because of one chemical in tobacco. Nicotine is very addictive. Within seven seconds of a person using tobacco, the nicotine hits the bloodstream and goes directly to the brain, releasing adrenaline and dopamine, which create feelings of excitement and pleasure.
Although it only takes five to seven days to get nicotine out of a person’s system, it’s very hard for most people to break the habit of having a cigarette with a cup of coffee, on a break or after a meal.
Scientific evidence shows that there is no safe level of exposure to secondhand smoke. The 2006 U.S. Surgeon General’s report reached several important conclusions about secondhand smoke:
• Secondhand smoke causes premature death and disease in children and in adults who do not smoke.
• Children exposed to secondhand smoke are at an increased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), acute respiratory infections, ear problems and more severe asthma. Smoking by parents causes breathing (respiratory) symptoms and slows lung growth in their children.
• Secondhand smoke immediately affects the heart and blood circulation in a harmful way. It also causes heart disease and lung cancer.
According to Georgia Quitline statistics, the program can more than double a person’s chances of successfully quitting tobacco. Callers to Quitline are connected with smoking-cessation resources in their communities, social support groups, Internet resources and medication assistance referrals.
Since its inception in 2000, Quitline has provided counseling support to more than 380,000 smokers. The toll-free number for the Quitline is 1-877-270-7867.
The American Cancer Society offers other free resources online at www.cancer.org that can increase a smoker’s chances of quitting successfully, including tips and tools for friends, family and coworkers of potential quitters to help them be aware and supportive of smokers’ struggles to quit.
Studies show the importance of social support in quitting smoking, as people are most likely to quit smoking when their friends, family and coworkers decide to quit smoking.
Popular online social networks such as Facebook and MySpace also are becoming support channels for people who want to quit, and American Cancer Society Smokeout-related downloadable desktop applications are available on these networks to help people quit or join the fight against tobacco.
Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.