Time to quit: 'The Great American Smokeout'

lgierer@ledger-enquirer.comNovember 18, 2013 

Quit smoking ILLUS

Kirk Lyttle/St. Paul Pioneer PressA color illustration of an extinguished cigarette stub.


Someone once said it was easier to break a cocaine habit than to quit smoking tobacco.

This Thursday is the American Cancer Society's "Great American Smokeout." It is a day to encourage people to quit smoking.

The organization Breathe Easy Columbus will have a ceremony near the clock tower on the Columbus State University campus from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

"People should know just how much damage smoking does to the body," said David Fletcher, the outreach manager for Columbus Regional Health's John B. Amos Cancer Center.

Fletcher, who is a former smoker and certified smoking instructor, has been teaching a class with the goal of getting people to quit smoking tobacco.

Linda Walker, 67, has had a portion of her right lung surgically removed because of cancer but still uses cigarettes.

"I'm trying to quit for my family," she said.

Walker, who began to smoke years ago so she would "fit in" with friends at clubs, plans to take Fletcher's "Fresh Start" class.

"Quitting smoking is not easy, but it is something that needs to be done," Fletcher said.

Fletcher, 55, has been teaching his class for three years.

He said only about half of those who sign up for the one-hour Thursday classes will drop out before the first class.

Those who sign up need to attend all four meetings, he said.

According to the American Lung Association, cigarette smoking is the key source of preventable disease and illness and premature death worldwide.

Smoking-related diseases claim an estimated 443,000 American lives each year, including those affected indirectly, such as babies born prematurely due to prenatal maternal smoking and victims of secondhand exposure to tobacco's carcinogens.

Cigarette smoke contains more than 4,800 chemicals, 69 of which are known to cause cancer.

Smoking is directly responsible for 90 percent of lung cancer deaths and 80-90 percent of emphysema and chronic bronchitis deaths.

About 8.6 million people in the U.S. have at least one serious illness caused by smoking.

Other problems connected with smoking include coronary heart disease and stroke.

It is nicotine that makes cigarettes so addictive.

The American Cancer Society says nicotine causes pleasant feelings and distracts the smoker from unpleasant feelings.

That makes the smoker want to smoke again.

Nicotine affects many parts of your body including your heart, blood vessels, hormones, the way your body uses food and your brain.

Over time, the smoker develops a tolerance to nicotine, which means it takes more nicotine to get the effect the smoker used to get from smaller amounts.

Fletcher said while people use cigarettes to fight stress, it actually speeds up the heart rate and raises blood pressure.

He said it is so addictive he has seen people getting chemotherapy sneak out for a smoke.

Fletcher said he tells people to set a quitting date.

They need to warn friends and family members they might be a little irritable for awhile.

"Let people support you," he said.

He added that another reason to quit smoking is financial. "It's expensive. Put the money you would spend on cigarettes in a jar. You might be able to afford something nice at the end of the year."

The center is now offering something which can help those who have been heavy smokers. It is a low-dose CT scan lung cancer screening.

One reason lung cancer is so serious is that the cancer may have spread before there are any symptoms.

Early detection can save lives.

Those with a high risk of developing lung cancer are those ages 55-74 with a 30 year or more habit of smoking a pack a day.

Peter Seirafi, the surgeon who performed Walker's operation, is the medical director of thoracic surgery and lung cancer at the center.

"Despite advances in surgical and oncological care over the past 30-40 years, mortality rates from lung cancer have largely been unchanged. This is due to the fact that most patients are diagnosed at a more advanced stage. The 20 percent reduction in mortality with appropriate lung cancer screening is due to the fact that we are able to find and treat patients earlier," Seirafi said.

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