by Gerald F. Joseph, Jr, MD
President, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
At the beginning of a new year, many Americans try to get healthy and kick bad habits. If you smoke, quitting should be at the top of your list.
Cigarette smoking kills about 178,000 women each year in the US. Smoking shaves an average of 14.5 years off the lives of female smokers, yet nearly one in six women 18 and older still light up.
Each puff of cigarette smoke exposes users to 2,500 chemicals and cancer-causing agents, including nicotine, tar, and carbon monoxide. Smoking causes 87% of lung cancer deaths and increases the risk of developing cervical and other cancers. Smokers are more likely to experience heart attack, stroke, emphysema, bronchitis, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, cataracts, and infertility than nonsmokers are.
Pregnant women who smoke put their babies at a higher risk for preterm birth, low birth weight, sudden infant death syndrome, poor lung function, asthma, and bronchitis. The harmful chemicals in cigarette smoke are also passed through breast milk to babies.
Smokers who quit can stop or reverse the damage caused by cigarettes. In the days and months after you quit, your heart rate and blood pressure drop to healthier levels, and your breathing, circulation, and sense of smell and taste may improve. Heart attack risk decreases by 50% within the first year after quitting, and the chances of developing lung cancer, heart disease, and other ailments fall to nearly that of a nonsmoker in the first few years.
If you are thinking about quitting, talk to your doctor about methods that may help you succeed.
Nicotine withdrawal and cravings stop 70% to 90% of smokers from quitting. Nicotine replacement products, such as patches, gum, nasal spray, inhalers, and lozenges, can help satisfy urges. Your doctor may also prescribe medications such as bupropion or varenicline to help you stop smoking. Using one or a combination of these methods can double your chances of quitting.
Smokers can call 800-QUIT-NOW, a free national smoking cessation hotline, to speak with trained counselors who will help develop individualized quit plans. Your doctor will also have information on support groups, such as Nicotine Anonymous, and other local smoking cessation resources.
Set a quit date when you will throw away all your cigarettes and clean your clothes to get rid of the smoky smell. Keep busy on your quit day—exercise, go to the movies, take a long walk, etc.—get plenty of water, and ask your friends and family for support.
According to the American Cancer Society, more than 75% of women say they want to stop smoking. It takes most smokers several tries to finally quit for good. If your first attempt is not successful, don’t get discouraged. Get some help and get back on track. ?
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