On Nov. 20, 2014, the day designated annually by the American Cancer Society as the "Great American Smokeout" will take place. 2014 marks the 38th anniversary of this event, which has helped save lives.
This is an important day for you whether or not you are a smoker. If you smoke, it is your best chance to stop smoking. And if you do not smoke yourself, it is your opportunity to talk to a family member or friend who is a smoker to offer your support in helping them to cut down or stop. This day could save your life or the life of a loved one.
When President Obama signed the Tobacco Control Act into law on June 22, 2009, he specifically described the importance of smoking cessation in Americans. Smoking results in more than 400,000 deaths annually in the United States from cancer, emphysema and other respiratory illnesses, cardiovascular disease, and spontaneous abortions or miscarriages during pregnancy. In the United States, there is an increased risk for premature birth in the fetus of pregnant women if the mother smokes, as well as growth retardation of the fetus. As mentioned by the president and from other studies, over 1,000 infants die annually because the mother smokes. This death rate from smoking is thousands of times greater than the deaths from Ebola, so each of us should take this seriously.
Why do all these diseases occur in smokers? A recent study showed that our DNA and genes have mutations caused by smoking. Compared to non-smokers, people who smoked have almost 600 unique gene mutations in their DNA. Bad genes cause bad diseases. It is obviously better to keep all your genes happy and healthy.
As a result of smoking, deaths from major cancers are increased. Among many others, lung cancer is directly caused by smoking, breast cancer risk is increased by smoking, and high grade prostate cancer is increased with smoking.
Because of the diseases caused by smoking, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has been active in evaluating the interventions appropriate to preventing tobacco use and tobacco related diseases in adults and now especially in pregnant women. The task force indicated that the most important support for an individual is medical counseling (simply by your primary care physician) and action that you (or any smoker) take with discussion with your doctor.
The conversation with your doctor should consist of five As:
1. Your physician should ASK you about your use of tobacco, and you should be honestly telling your physician about your smoking habit.
2. You should receive a clear message from the physician that ADVISES you to quit smoking.
3. You should AGREE to have a willingness to stop smoking.
4. Your doctor should tell you how they are going to ASSIST you in quitting your smoking habit.
5. Your physician should be certain that she/he ARRANGES a follow-up visit for you to be certain that your smoking is stopped or reduced, and should continue support and follow-up visits to be certain you are making progress.
Also, medications to be discussed with your physician should include nicotine patches, nicotine inhalers, nicotine gum, anti-depression medications (which can reduce smoking habits) such as bupropion, and reducers of the urge to smoke such as varenicline. Because smokeless tobacco delivery systems (electronic cigarettes) can reduce the use of combustible tobacco (regular cigarettes), smokers should discuss use of these products to help reduce smoking if other methods have been unsuccessful. In having those discussions with your physician, let the doctor know if you are pregnant.
So for Great American Smokeout and your personal smoke-free life (you could live 11 to 12 years longer by not smoking), here are my tips.
• Commit to wanting to stop smoking.
• Discuss your smoking with your doctor.
• Expect full support from your doctor. If you do not get it, ask for a referral to a doctor who will support you completely, or get a second opinion. For details on getting second opinions see my book Surviving American Medicine.
• Get the support from your family and friends. This can make the difference between success and failure.
Live longer, live healthier, make the lives of those around you healthier (by avoiding your second-hand smoke), and make the Great American Smokeout your personal first anniversary for your smoke-free life.