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Smoking: it's never too late to stop

“I've smoked two packs of cigarettes a day for 40 years - what's the use of quitting now?”

If you quit smoking, you are likely to add years to your life, breathe more easily, and have more energy. You will have extra money for spending or saving, and food will taste better. When you quit smoking, you join over a million people who break the habit each year. Whether you are young or old, you will also have: less chance of cancer, heart attack, and lung disease, better blood circulation, healthier family members, particularly children and grandchildren, a healthy lifestyle example for your children and grandchildren, no odor of smoke in your clothes and hair, and a more sensitive sense of smell.

What Smoking Does

Cigarette smoke damages your lungs and airways. Air passages swell and, become filled with mucus. This can cause a cough that won't go away. Sometimes this leads to a lung disease called chronic bronchitis. If you keep smoking, normal breathing may become harder and harder as emphysema develops. In emphysema, airways become blocked as the tissue of your lungs undergoes changes that make getting enough oxygen difficult. Smoking can shorten your life. It brings an early death to more than 400,000 people in the United States each year. Lifelong smokers have a 1 in 2 chance of dying from a smoking-related disease. Smoking doesn't just cut a few months off the end of your life. It reduces the life of the average smoker by 12 years. Smoking makes millions of Americans sick by causing:

Heart Disease

If you have high blood pressure or high cholesterol and also smoke, you increase your chance of having a heart attack.


Smoking causes cancer of the lungs, mouth, larynx (voice box), stomach and esophagus. It plays a role in cancer of the pancreas, kidney, bladder, the cervix and breast in women and testicular cancer in men. The chance of getting cancer grows as you smoke more cigarettes, smoke more years, or inhale deeply.

Respiratory Problems

If you smoke, you are more likely than a nonsmoker to get the flu, pneumonia, or other infections that can interfere with your breathing (such as colds). Flu and pneumonia are very dangerous for older people and thousands of seniors die every year from the flu and pneumonia.


If you are an older woman who smokes, your chance of developing osteoporosis is greater. Women who are past menopause tend to lose bone strength and sometimes develop this bone-weakening disorder. Bones weakened by osteoporosis fracture more easily. Also, women smokers begins menopause sooner than the average woman does. Men can also develop osteoporosis and suffer bone damage and fractures.

Good News About Quitting

As soon as you stop smoking, your heart and arteries and veins that blood flows through start getting better. Your chance of heart attack, stroke, and other circulatory diseases begins to drop. The flow of blood to your hands and feet gets stronger. Your breathing may be more difficult in the first few weeks, but should become easier a few months after your last cigarette. Quitting smoking can't undo permanent lung damage. It may, however, help slow further damage to the lungs. Your chance of getting cancer from smoking also begins to shrink. Within 10 to 15 years after quitting, the risk of cancer and heart disease is almost as low as that of a nonsmoker.

Nicotine Is A Drug

Nicotine is a very addictive drug. At first, when you smoke, nicotine makes you feel good and you want to smoke more. Soon, your body starts to need more nicotine in order to feel good. Then you smoke even more to keep getting that pleasurable feeling.

The first few weeks after quitting are the hardest. Some people who give up smoking have withdrawal symptoms. You may become grumpy, hungry, or tired. You may have headaches, feel depressed, or have problems sleeping or concentrating. Some people have no withdrawal symptoms at all. You may be worried about gaining weight if you stop smoking. Many people who stop smoking gain little or no weight. Those who do gain usually add less than 10 pounds. But, even if you add a few pounds, you will be healthier than if you continued smoking.

Breaking the Habit

Smoking is a strong addiction for both your body and mind. That is why it is so hard to stop. But, people do succeed. There is help. You can: read self-help literature, take a quit-smoking class, use individual or group counseling, join a support group, get a friend to quit with you, take medicine to help with nicotine withdrawal, or use nicotine replacement therapy.

Each person is different. Find what works best for you. Sometimes combining several methods is the answer. Many people can stop on their own. Others need help from doctors, clinics, or organized groups. The first step is to make a firm decision to quit. Then, choose a date to stop smoking, and pick one or more methods for quitting.

When you quit, you may need special help to cope with your body's desire for nicotine. Nicotine replacement therapy can help control withdrawal symptoms, but it's not for everyone. Check with your doctor first. The Naval Hospital only offers the nicotine patch and you must attend the tobacco cessation class to receive the patch.

There is a drug to help handle your cravings called Zyban. It does not contain nicotine and must be prescribed by your doctor. The most common side effects are dry mouth and problems getting to sleep.

At the Naval Hospital, Zyban and the nicotine patches are only available when you attend the tobacco cessation class.

Cigars, Chewing Tobacco, and Snuff Are Not Safer

Some people think smokeless tobacco (chewing tobacco and snuff), pipes, and cigars are safer than cigarettes. They are not. Using smokeless tobacco can cause cancer of the mouth, nicotine addiction, and possibly cancer of the larynx and esophagus, as well as tooth and heart problems. Pipe and cigar smokers may develop cancer of the mouth, lip, larynx, pharynx, and esophagus. Those who inhale have the same chance of lung cancer as cigarette smokers have.

If You Are Around Someone Who Smokes

Passive smoking happens when a nonsmoker breathes smoke from someone else's cigarette, pipe, or cigar. It is also called secondhand smoke. We now know that such secondhand smoke is unsafe. Over 50,000 Americans die every year from disease caused by someone else’s tobacco use.

Passive smoking is very dangerous for someone with asthma, other lung conditions, or heart disease. It may cause bronchitis, pneumonia, an asthma attack, or inner ear infections in babies and young children. It is associated with SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). These problems are just some good reasons for a parent or grandparent to think about quitting smoking. Everyone should try not to smoke around young children or infants.

Where To Get Help

If you have TRICARE Prime or TRICARE For Life, you can attend the Tobacco Cessation Classes in the Naval Hospital. Call 830-2814 for more information about class schedules and to sign up. You can also access the DoD tobacco cessation website at to get help quitting tobacco.

Robert E Bush
Naval Hospital
Twentynine Palms
Health Promotions

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From the Navy and Marine Corps Public Health Center


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This page was new at D-is-for-Diabetes on March 26, 2012

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