For 35 years, the American Cancer Society has designated the third Thursday in November as the Great American Smokeout. This year, tobacco users were encouraged to either make a "quit plan" or to actually quit using tobacco on that day.
For the third year in a row, Teens Against Tobacco Use (TATU) and the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence facilitated a poster display with over 200 posters drawn by local elementary-age children. The topic for the posters is "Why people should not smoke," and the posters are currently displayed at the Nugget Mall with a resource table stocked with tobacco cessation information.
Although nationwide smoking rates have declined in the last several years, tobacco use remains the single largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the U.S. To put the numbers in perspective, in World War II, almost 300,000 Americans were killed, and tobacco use kills 443,000 people a year in the U.S. alone. That is equivalent to three jumbo jets crashing every day for a year. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among smokers, as well as chronic long-term diseases such as emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Tobacco use also causes several types of cancer with lung cancer being the most prevalent.
Quitting smoking can be difficult, but not impossible. Nicotine is one of the most difficult drugs to withdraw from, and the physical and psychological symptoms of withdrawal are what cause most tobacco users to keep using or relapse after a quit attempt. Most successful quitters have had several unsuccessful quit attempts before they quit for good.
The exciting news is that the science of tobacco cessation has grown and there are now many effective tools available to assist the tobacco user in quitting. Trying to quit tobacco cold turkey may work for a few, but has the lowest success rate of all the cessation methods. Nicotine itself, while addictive, is relatively harmless. Therefore, the use of nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) has been used for years to lessen the effects of withdrawal symptoms. Combining NRT with a smoking cessation program designed to address the psychological aspects of withdrawal can double the chances for success.
Five different types of NRT are available - three over-the-counter products and two available by prescription. Nicotine patches, gum and lozenges are available without prescription, while the nicotine nasal spray and nicotine inhaler require a prescription. There are also two anti-craving medications available by prescription, Zyban and Chantix.
The Alaska Tobacco Quit Line, 1-800-QUIT-NOW, is a free tobacco cessation service that provides trained tobacco treatment specialists and a free two-month supply of nicotine patches. Online cessation resources include the American Lung Association's Freedom from Smoking program at www.lungusa.org or www.becomeanex.org.
For local cessation services call SEARHC at 364-4440, Bartlett Regional Hospital at 796-8900, or talk to your health care provider. Help is readily available - don't quit quitting.
Wendy Hamilton is the Tobacco Program Manager for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence.