You don’t need to be told once again how dangerous smoking is. Yet, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report that approximately one in five (American) adults smokes, and that half of them who continue to smoke will die from smoking-related causes.

To help encourage smokers to quit before it’s too late, the American Cancer Society (ACS) has designated the third Thursday of November each year as the Great American Smokeout. This year, the date is Nov. 21, but any day can be an individual’s own personal smokeout. The idea is to find a date to quit and then do so using support and tools available throughout the community.

“By quitting—even for one day—smokers will be taking an important step toward a healthier life—one that can lead to reducing cancer risk,” the ACS states on its website. While this is true, it likely will be years before the nation as a whole sees significant reductions in smoking-related disease, says one area expert.

“Lung cancer is now the No. 1 leading cause of death for both men and women among all cancers,” says Dr. Dayton Dmello with Mercy Clinic Pulmonology. “I think it’s because we’re seeing the net results of many years of smoking, and I think it’s going to take many more years to see these effects (of smoking cessation) finally manifest into a reduction of disease.”

Dmello notes that older people who have been long-time smokers may still develop smoking-related diseases, like lung cancer and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, even if they quit in their later years. But quitting has immediate benefits that make it worthwhile at any stage of life.

“When people quit smoking they feel better—they’re less short of breath, they have better taste perception, they have fewer chronic sinus conditions and respiratory infections, and their overall exercise capacity goes up,” Dmello says. And the risk of cancer, COPD and cardiovascular disease all decrease significantly over time after an individual stops smoking.

There are many harmful compounds and carcinogens in tobacco smoke, yet the addictive nature of nicotine makes smoking cessation a difficult endeavor. Many people must try numerous times before successfully quitting for good.

Recognizing the inherent challenges to quitting, area hospitals offer smoking cessation support and programs. For example, St. Luke’s Hospital provides one-on-one consultation with a certified tobacco cessation counselor. “The curriculum includes information on nicotine replacement (gum and patches), stress-reduction training, cognitive restructuring, social support and relapse prevention counseling, as well as handouts and workbooks,” says Karen Lane, the hospital’s pulmonary rehabilitation coordinator. The St. Luke’s program costs $25, and appointments can be made by calling 542-4888.

“In general, most smokers quit six to nine times before staying smoke free,” she says. “If smokers try to quit because they know they should or at someone else's prompting, they have less than a 10-percent chance of staying smoke-free. Once they decide they want to quit, they are successful 70 percent of the time. Smoking cessation programs help quitters stay on track and offer suggestions for problem situations causing slip-ups or relapses.”

People who want to quit smoking also can find help online. The American Lung Association’s Freedom from Smoking program, offered as an eight-week course at many area locations, also is available as an online program at ffsonline.org. The online program provides modules that require the participant to complete various assignments during the smoking cessation process.

Whether you quit on your own, with the help of a local support group or via an online program, consider joining in the 2013 Great American Smokeout. More information is available at cancer.org/smokeout.

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