Dying to be cool

Thursday, November 10, 2005
Every year tens of thousands of Americans die as a result of smoking-related illnesses. Yet each death is replaced by a new smoker, a younger smoker looking to get accepted as cool, hip.

So you think smoking is cool?

What's cool about breath that smells like the bottom of a bird cage? What's cool about holes in your clothing because the ash from your cigarette fell on them? What's cool about standing outside in summer heat or winter freeze during a break at work so you can feed your habit?

Peer pressure often leads people to smoking. Now peer pressure can work to get people to give up a habit that is not only expensive, but deadly.

Next Thursday an estimated 1 million smokers will try to quit smoking on the 28th annual Great American Smokeout. After New Year's Day, the Smokeout is the biggest day of the calendar for those who try to quit.

All it takes to quit is determination, say local health professionals.

"The commitment to quit has to come from within," said Lisa Newcomer, a smoking cessation instructor at Saint Francis Medical Center.

Smoking is not as socially acceptable as it once was, said Debbie Leoni, a smoking cessation instructor with Southeast Missouri Hospital. It is as hard to overcome as getting over heroin or cocaine addiction. But it can be done. There are methods available to help.

"Every method has some ability to work," Leoni said. "Sometimes it takes four or five times before a person finally quits."

Newcomer suggests that people who want to quit smoking pick a date for their first day as a non-smoker and stick to it. Prepare for the day and by the time it arrives, you'll be psyched into quitting.

Leoni suggests potential quitters modify their behavior by replacing the bad habit with a good one, such as exercise. Plan in advance how you will react when you're faced with the desire to smoke.

Reward yourself for not smoking. Former smoker Rhonda Ellis of Cape Girardeau said she had the price of two packs of cigarettes deducted from her paycheck and deposited into a special account. She plans to buy a new bedroom suite with the savings.

Nicotine patches and gum are available at pharmacies to help a smoker through those rough first few weeks of quitting.

The American Lung Association offers pointers to help smokers become former smokers:

* See your doctor or dentist and have him check your mouth. Discuss your plan for quitting with him.

* Set up a support system -- family members, non-smoking friends, or a support group -- to get you through.

* Make a list of your "triggers" -- situations, places, or emotions that make you most likely to smoke. Being aware of these can help you avoid them or be ready for them.

* On the day you choose to quit, get rid of your cigarettes.

* Keep active.

* Try oral substitutes like sugarless gum, hard candy, vegetables or other healthy snacks.

* Drink lots of liquids.

* Some people find hypnosis helpful.

* Keep in mind that these suggestions work also for people who use smokeless tobacco.

Andy Kates, a doctor at Washington University's Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis says that despite overwhelming evidence, many people still think cigarettes really won't harm them. But, he said, a person's risk of heart disease, lung cancer and stroke are directly tied to cigarette smoking, and not just for the smoker.

"First of all, you're exposing your kids to second-hand smoke," Kates said. "Secondly, keep in mind the majority of people who smoke start by the time they're 14, so your kids are modeling their behavior after you."

Newcomer says young people need to find ways to combat peer pressure and build their own self-image in a way that does not accept the notion that smokers are cool.

"Once they take that first puff they're at risk for addiction that will follow them all their lives," she said. "Kids need to learn that smoking predisposes them for illness."

The Great American Smokeout's goal is to help smokers quit for one day in the hope they quit for a lifetime. Kates says that while the Smokeout is an excellent awareness tool, smokers don't have to wait until that day to quit.

Try it today.

Tobacco-related cancers

* Lung cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. for both men and women.

* Lung cancer estimates for 2005:

New cases: 172,570

Males: 93,010

Females: 9,560

Deaths: 163,510

Males: 90,490

Females: 73,020

* Eighty-seven percent of lung cancer deaths can be attributed to tobacco use.

* Besides lung cancer, tobacco use also causes increased risk for cancer of the mouth, nasal cavities, larynx, pharynx, esophagus, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, bladder, uterine cervix and myeloid leukemia.

* In the U.S., tobacco use is responsible for nearly one in five deaths or an estimated 435,000 deaths in 2000.

* In 2005, more than 175,000 cancer deaths will be caused by tobacco use.

* Smoking accounts for at least 30 percent of all cancer deaths.

* In 2002, an estimated 45.4 million U.S. adults (almost one-quarter of the population) were current smokers.

* In 2003, 21.9 percent of U.S. high school students reported smoking at least one day in the previous month, with almost 10 percent reporting frequent smoking or smoking for 20 or more days of the last month.

* Almost 90 percent of current smokers became addicted to tobacco before age 18.

* Each year, second-hand smoke may be responsible for about 3,000 lung cancer deaths in nonsmoking adults and an additional 35,000 to 40,000 cases of heart disease in people who are not current smokers.

* Among adults age 18 and older, national data showed 6 percent of men and 1 percent of women were current users of chewing tobacco or snuff.

* Oral cancer occurs several times more frequently among chewing tobacco or snuff users compared with nontobacco users.

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