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Topics > Healthy Outlook > It's Never Too Late To Quit Smoking And Save Your Health

It's Never Too Late To Quit Smoking And Save Your Health

Published by Contra Costa Times
Posted on Sun, Nov. 14, 2004
By Denice Dennis, MPH

I COME FROM a long line of smokers and smoked more than two packs a day for years. I know what it's like to be part of a smoking family.

But I quit, and so can you.

My mother, three grandparents, my sister and I all started smoking before we were 16. My first cigarette was nauseating, but I kept at it because I thought smoking was "cool" and thought it might help me stay "trim."

Cigarette advertisements try to make us think and feel that.

Like my family, 85 percent of adult cigarette smokers begin smoking before age 18. At first, my sister and I fooled our parents by smoking with our heads hanging out our bedroom window. Soon, we were hooked. Nicotine is now known to be one of the most habit-forming substances available. And young people are even more easily habituated to tobacco than adults. By my 20s, I was up to two packs a day.

My maternal grandparents finally quit after my grandfather had a heart attack at age 55. Thankfully, they went on to live long lives and are examples that it's never too late to quit.

My paternal grandfather smoked until his hospitalization for emphysema, gasping for air and reaching for a cigarette. That year, my mother's best friend died from breast cancer. It took these prolonged deaths to get my mom, my sister and me to attend a stop-smoking class.

My mother and sister quit during that class, but I required many tries and more than two years. I learned later that this is common for many trying to quit. The more times you try to quit, the more likely you are to succeed. So don't give up.

My mother died from lung cancer 12 years ago at age 56. After 40 years of smoking, her lungs were too weak to survive the surgery to remove the "spot" on her X-ray, and she died three days after the procedure.

Don't wait until you have a heart attack or get cancer to quit. To get through the first and toughest two to three months, try chewing gum or playing with Silly Putty to occupy your hands. Take walks with friends to help with stress. Remember, it will get easier as the nonsmoking weeks pass.

Some people find that nicotine patches, inhalers or gum can help get through the worst of the withdrawal symptoms. Your doctor or pharmacist can give you more information on these products.

One strategy to avoid restarting is to promise a loved one to give him or her $20 or more for each cigarette you smoke. That way, smoking "just one" will be too expensive, and you won't be tempted to fall back into old habits.

If you need help, ask other people how they quit, attend a stop-smoking class or call the California Smokers Helpline at 1-800-NOBUTTS. The help line will send you information to help you plan for quitting.

It's never too late to quit smoking. Your heart attack risk falls by 50 percent a year after quitting. After 10 years, your lung cancer risk is also reduced by half.

If I can quit smoking, anyone can. Take the challenge yourself this year. Join the Great American Smokeout on Nov. 18.

Denice Dennis is the manager of the county's Tobacco Prevention Project.

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