Figuring out how to best save a life is getting harder and harder-at least on a global scale-as infectious diseases are becoming resistant to commonly used antibiotics and as different preventive health measures compete for the same health care dollars. However, one of the most effective ways to prevent mortality and morbidity in the United States, and globally, is to help people quit smoking.
After watching one grandfather who smoked suffer from lung cancer, and another grandfather suffer from emphysema due to smoking, I have seen firsthand the horrific effects that smoking can have on a person’s health. And the scientific evidence is clear, so much so that the majority of doctors do not smoke, and only 6% of people with a college degree smoke.
However, new statistics show that after four decades of a continuous drop in the percentage of Americans who smoke, the prevalence of smokers in the United States has plateaued at around 20%. Of course the 20% of people who do smoke affect the health of more people than just themselves, it is known that about one half of all children in the United States are exposed to secondhand smoke. And secondhand smoke, initially thought to be somewhat benign, can increase a person’s risk of a number of medical diseases such as heart disease.
About half a million people die each year from smoking, and smoking related deaths such as lung cancer and other diseases is the number one preventable form of death in the United States. In addition, tobacco addiction is the number two cause of death world wide.
As grim as this may sound, it doesn’t paint the whole picture, as many smokers suffer from the negative health effects of smoking even if they are not killed by it. As a medical student I participated in the home care of an elderly woman who had COPD, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, due to smoking. She required supplemental oxygen given to her via a tube and was upset that her COPD had so drastically decreased her quality of life such that she was often bound to her wheelchair.
Given that nicotine is classified as a highly addictive drug, kicking the habit can be very difficult for many smokers.
So where is the best place to start?
Talking with your doctor about beginning a smoking cessation program can be an important first step, as health care professionals can offer encouragement, informed advice and appropriate motivation to help a smoker quit. Be aware that doctors usually first attempt to ascertain if a given patient is willing to stop smoking, and may not immediately recommend a smoking cessation program even if he or she has strongly encouraged you to stop smoking.
Ask your doctor about resources available to help you stop smoking, so that at least you know what is available even if you are not planning on stopping tomorrow.
The best results are achieved by combining medications with behavioral counseling. By talking to your doctor about quitting smoking, you can determine what will help you best get through the withdrawal symptoms.
Some great links for people interested in quitting are listed on the CDC webpage and can be seen by click here.