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The time to quit smoking is today

Maybe it’s you, a family member or a loved one who’s trying to quit. You’ve always said you could go the distance, that you could stop lifting that pack at any time.

We believe in you. And now is a great time to do it.

Today is the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, a day where defeating tobacco addiction becomes a team sport.

Why should I stop smoking?

Cigarette smoke contains a deadly brew of 7,000 chemicals and compounds. Hundreds of them are poisonous and at least 70 cause cancer. Every time you take a puff or inhale secondhand smoke, these chemicals spread through your body, damaging blood vessels and cells.

Besides lung cancer, tobacco use also increases the risk for many other cancers (PDF), including cancer of the mouth, lips, nose and sinuses, larynx (voice box), pharynx (throat), esophagus (swallowing tube), stomach, pancreas, kidneys and more. And loved ones who inhale second-hand smoke have an increased risk for these cancers.

Deaths related to smoking are on the decline, down to an all-time low of 16.8%, according to federal health authorities. Yet an estimated 443,000 Americans die each year from smoking-related illnesses – all preventable. And while the rate of smoking has dropped, around 30 million adults still smoke, and millions more are exposed to secondhand smoke.

The number one thing you can do to improve your health is to stop smoking and chewing tobacco products.

Beyond the cancer risk

The nicotine in tobacco constricts your blood vessels, so using tobacco in any form is a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. It’s also highly addictive, bringing physical and psychological addictions. Smoking is also one of the major causes of COPD, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is also a risk factor for having problems getting pregnant and having a healthy baby.

What should I do if I want to quit smoking?

The letters in the word “START” can help you remember the steps to take:

S = Set a quit date.

T = Tell family, friends and the people around you that you plan to quit.

A = Anticipate or plan ahead for the tough times you’ll face while quitting. Withdrawal can be a challenge, but it you can do it!

R = Remove cigarettes and other tobacco products from your home, car and work.

T = Talk to your doctor about getting help to quit. Your doctor or nurse can give you advice on the best way to quit. He or she can also put you in touch with counselors or other people you can call for support. Plus, your doctor or nurse can give you medicines to:

  • Reduce your craving for cigarettes
  • Reduce the unpleasant symptoms that happen when you stop smoking (called “withdrawal symptoms”)

What else can I do to improve my chances of quitting?

  • Start exercising.
  • Stay away from smokers and places that you associate with smoking. If people close to you smoke, ask them to quit with you.
  • Keep gum, hard candy or something to put in your mouth handy. If you get a craving for a cigarette, try one of these instead.
  • Don’t give up, even if you start smoking again. It takes most people a few tries before they succeed.

How does my body recover after quitting smoking?

  • After 12 hours: The carbon monoxide level in your blood drops to normal.
  • 2 weeks to 3 months: Your circulation improves, and your lung function increases.
  • 1 to 9 months: Coughing and shortness of breath decrease and cilia start to regain normal function in the lungs, increasing the ability to handle mucus and clean the lungs and reducing the risk of infection.
  • After 1 year: The excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker's.
  • After 5 years: The risk of cancer of the mouth, throat, esophagus and bladder is cut in half. Cervical cancer risk falls to that of a non-smoker. Stroke risk can fall to that of a non-smoker after 2-5 years.
  • After 10 years: The risk of dying from lung cancer is about half that of a person who is still smoking. The risk of cancer of the larynx (voice box) and pancreas decreases.
  • After 15 years: The risk of coronary heart disease is that of a non-smoker's.

What if I am pregnant and I smoke?

If you are pregnant, it’s important for the health of your baby that you quit. Ask your doctor what options you have and what's safest for your baby.

Quitting smoking isn’t easy, but you can do it! As a Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) member, you can get help a couple of ways:

If you aren’t a Blue Cross NC member, you can visit your state’s Department of Health and Human Services smoking cessation website, check out the resources at or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (800-784-8669).

Larry Wu, MD

Larry Wu, MD

Regional Medical Director

Larry is a regional medical director for Blue Cross NC providing consultative services for employee health solutions, prevention, chronic disease, care management, medical expense and utilization management. He's a family physician with over 20 years in clinical practice, has served as clinic director in the Indian Health Service, Kaiser Permanente and Duke Family Medicine and currently maintains a part-time clinical practice.

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