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Questions and Answers About Smoking Cessation

How important is it to stop smoking?

It is very important. Tobacco use remains the single most preventable cause of death in the United States. Cigarette smoking accounts for nearly one-third of all cancer deaths in this country each year.

Smoking is the most common risk factor for the development of lung cancer, which is the leading cause of cancer death. It is also associated with many other types of cancer, including cancers of the esophagus, larynx, kidney, pancreas, and cervix. Smoking also increases the risk of other health problems, such as chronic lung disease and heart disease. Smoking during pregnancy can have adverse effects on the unborn child, such as premature delivery and low birth weight.

What are the immediate benefits of stopping smoking?
The health benefits when you quit smoking are immediate and substantial. Almost immediately, a person's circulation begins to improve and the level of carbon monoxide in the blood begins to decline. (Carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas found in cigarette smoke, reduces the blood's ability to carry oxygen.) A person's pulse rate and blood pressure, which may be abnormally high while smoking, begin to return to normal. Within a few days of quitting, a person's sense of taste and smell return, and breathing becomes increasingly easier.

What are the long-term benefits of stopping smoking?
People who quit smoking live longer than those who continue to smoke. After 10 to 15 years, a previous tobacco user's risk of premature death approaches that of a person who has never smoked. About 10 years after quitting, an ex-smoker's risk of dying from lung cancer is 30 percent to 50 percent less than the risk for those who continue to smoke. Women who stop smoking before becoming pregnant or who quit in the first 3 months of pregnancy can reverse the risk of low birth weight for the baby and reduce other pregnancy-associated risks. Quitting also reduces the risk of other smoking-related diseases, including heart disease and chronic lung disease.

There are also many benefits to smoking cessation for people who are sick or who have already developed cancer. Smoking cessation reduces the risk for developing infections, such as pneumonia, which often causes death in patients with other existing diseases.

Does cancer risk change after quitting smoking?
Quitting smoking reduces the risk for developing cancer, and this benefit increases the longer a person remains "smoke free." People who quit smoking reduce their risk of developing and dying from lung cancer. They also reduce their risk of other types of cancer (see question 1). The risk of premature death and the chance of developing cancer due to cigarettes depends on the number of years of smoking, the number of cigarettes smoked per day, the age at which smoking began, and the presence or absence of illness at the time of quitting. For people who have already developed cancer, quitting smoking reduces the risk of developing another primary cancer.

At what age is smoking cessation the most beneficial?
Smoking cessation benefits men and women at any age. Some older adults may not perceive the benefits of quitting smoking; however, smokers who quit before age 50 have half the risk of dying in the next 16 years compared with people who continue to smoke. By age 64, their overall chance of dying is similar to that of people the same age who have never smoked. Older adults who quit smoking also have a reduced risk of dying from coronary heart disease and lung cancer. Additional, immediate benefits (such as improved circulation, and increased energy and breathing capacity) are other good reasons for older adults to become smoke free.

What are some of the difficulties associated with quitting smoking?
Quitting smoking may cause short-term after-effects, especially for those who have smoked a large number of cigarettes for a long period of time. People who quit smoking are likely to feel anxious, irritable, hungry, more tired, and have difficulty sleeping. They may also have difficulty concentrating. Many tobacco users gain weight when they quit, but usually less than 10 pounds. These changes do subside. People who kick the habit have the opportunity for a healthier future.

How can health care providers help their patients to stop smoking?
Doctors and dentists can be good sources of information about the health risks of smoking and about quitting. They can tell their patients about the proper use and potential side effects of nicotine replacement therapy (see question 8), and help them find local smoking cessation programs.

Doctors and dentists can also play an important role by asking patients about smoking at every office visit; advising patients to stop; assisting patients by setting a quit date, providing self-help materials, and suggesting nicotine replacement therapies (when appropriate); and arranging for followup visits.


 

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