This week, try to be a quitter for a day
There was a time in St. Mary’s when tobacco was king. The leaf was a pillar of the local economy, and although most of the tobacco produced locally wound up in Europe, plenty of folks here got and kept the habit of smoking. That led to a not-so-pleasant tradition: cancer.
Maryland began in 2001 a 10-year program to buy out tobacco farmers. One of the buyout’s stated goals was helping farmers transition into other crops. That has been marginally successful, but the state also pumped money into anti-smoking programs. That push toward prevention has continued, even though the buyout ended six years ago.
All over America, fewer people are smoking than in decades past, when advertising on TV and in magazines once made lighting up seem sophisticated and cool, even healthy. But according to the American Cancer Society, about 42 million Americans still smoke cigarettes — and tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the United States. In St. Mary’s, according to the county health department, 14.5 percent of adults and 22.6 of young people regularly use tobacco products. Not as much as in bygone days, but still cause for great concern.
To raise awareness of that, tomorrow, the third Thursday in November, is the Great American Smokeout. The cancer society uses this day to challenge smokers. Give it up for a day, they say, and maybe you can quit for good.
The St. Mary’s health department fully supports the Great American Smokeout, and makes plenty of resources and information available. Free quit tobacco classes are offered regularly throughout the community health department. Call 301-475-4330 or go to www.smchd.org/tobacco for more information. To get involved in community action to reduce tobacco use here, or to access additional resources, check out healthystmarys.com/tobacco-free-liv- ing. Also, weekly Nicotine Anonymous meetings are held at On Our Own of St. Mary’s County. Call 301-997-1066 for more information.
At the state level, Maryland offers a free Tobacco Quitline at 1-800-QUITNOW, available 24 hours a day, seven days per week, to support anyone who would like to quit tobacco. They’re there to talk you down before you light up. And there’s a free text messaging program called SmokefreeTXT that gives encouragement, advice and tips to be become smoke-free and healthier. Sign up at smokefree.gov/smokefreetxt.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, tobacco use in the United States causes about 443,000 deaths each year — or nearly one in every five deaths in this country. Smokers die an average of 13 years sooner than their nonsmoking counterparts, according to the CDC.
And the benefits of quitting begin almost immediately, rippling into other healthy milestones, the CDC says. Just 20 minutes after your last cigarette, your heart rate and blood pressure drop. Within 12 hours, the bloodstream’s carbon monoxide level dips into the normal range. After three months, circulation and lung function improve. Breathing is easier and smoker’s cough abates after nine months, the CDC says.
After a smoke-free year, the risk of coronary trouble is cut in half. After five years, the risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder are reduced by half. After 10 years, the chance of lung cancer has been cut in half. Finally, if a smoker remains an ex-smoker for 15 years, the risk of coronary disease is the same as that of a person who never smoked.
But of course, quitting smoking is hard. It’s a chemical addiction to nicotine, and like making any other lifestyle change, is not to be taken lightly. And everyone behind the Great American Smokeout knows that. It’s all designed to inform and help, not to judge or preach.
So tomorrow, be a quitter for a day. Maybe it’s a habit that will stick.