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It’s better to never start than stop

Karen Miller

Trying to pick the best time to quit tobacco?

Whether this is your first or fifth attempt, today is the perfect day to launch a new plan.

Start by thinking hard about the facts. All tobacco products — cigarettes, cigars and smokeless options like chewing tobacco or snuff — cause cancer. And not just lung cancer, either. According to the American Cancer Society, using tobacco raises risks for cancers of the mouth, lips, nose, sinuses, voice box, throat, stomach, pancreas, kidney, bladder, uterus, cervix and other sites in the body.

Reaping the Benefits

Want more reasons to quit? According to the American Cancer Society, you’ll reap major health benefits

Time after quitting Health benefits

20 minutes Blood pressure and heart rate drop

12 hours Carbon monoxide in your blood returns to normal levels

2 weeks to 3 months Circulation and lung function improve

1 to 9 months Coughing and shortness of breath decrease

1 year Heart disease risk drops by half

2 to 5 years Stroke risk decreases to that of a non-smoker

5 years Risks for certain cancers (mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder)

are halved, and cervical cancer risk drops to that of a non-smoker.

10 years Risk of lung cancer death is cut in half

15 years Risk of heart disease is that of a non-smoker

One in five deaths can be traced to tobacco. Twenty more people wind up with serious health problems for each person who dies. Smoking leads to heart disease, strokes and lung diseases like emphysema and bronchitis. It prompts further complications in people with diabetes.

Second-hand smoke kills thousands of people annually and harms many more. Children of smokers are more likely to have ear infections and lung infections like pneumonia and bronchitis. Youngsters who have asthma suffer attacks more often and more severely.

“When you quit, you begin to stop the damage,” said Dr. Thomas Hawkins, medical director for health informatics at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts. “Your risk for heart disease goes down 50 percent in twelve months. Cancer risks also decline, although more slowly.”

Your health improves vastly in many ways. And your wallet benefits, too.

Who Smokes?

Among adults, 21 percent of African Americans, 13 percent of Hispanics and 9 percent of Asian Americans reported smoking in 2011. Every day, nearly 3,500 children ages 12-17 have their first cigarette.

Are you ever too old to quit?

No. While smokers 65 or older are just half as likely to try quitting as 18-24 year olds, older smokers are nearly twice as likely to succeed when they do try. That’s good since they have much to gain. A 2011 study of older adults found less cognitive decline over a two-year period in those who quit or never smoked versus those who continued smoking. Other research shows older smokers who quit have two to three years longer life expectancy, lower odds for a second heart attack or amputation and better lung function, which may translate to more mobility and independence.

Check with your health plan about quit tobacco programs and incentives. Experts recommend a quit plan tailored to your needs that involves a combination of approaches:

  • Set a quit date and regular check-in dates to report on how you’re doing.
  • Identify great reasons to quit.
  • Identify your smoking triggers and plan to avoid them.
  • Recall past slip-ups and plan around them.
  • Learn which nicotine replacement products (patches, gum, lozenges, sprays and inhalers) could help you.
  • Talk to your doctor about medicines that help quash cravings and withdrawal symptoms.
  • Seek support from your doctor, a smoking cessation counselor, loved ones or social networking sites for others who are trying to quit.

What step should you take first?

Choose one of the following:

  • Call your doctor, who can prescribe helpful medicines and refer you to a smoking cessation program.
  • Contact your health care plan about smoking cessation programs. Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts members can call the number on the front of their ID card or find a full-featured quit program at complete with tools that let you track your progress, show just how many days quitting adds to your life, and total up the cash you’re saving. There are also community forums and “ask an expert” tools.
  • Request a step-by-step guide to quitting from ( or 1-800-QUIT-NOW). Quitline counselors are available by phone — or even via text message — to answer questions and offer encouragement every step of the way.

Perseverance really counts! To quit tobacco successfully, people often have to try several times. Understanding why you failed in the past can help you succeed next time. What ruined your resolve? Which situations or people made cravings impossible to resist? How could you handle stress better? Should you talk to your doctor or a smoking cessation counselor about which nicotine replacements or other medicines might work best for you? Would more support or other incentives encourage you to stick with quitting?

Need help to kick the habit?

It’s a call or click away